Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Davos I, ASOS

davos1

“He watched the sail grow for a long time, trying to decide whether he would sooner live or die.”

Synopsis: Davos may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.

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:

A great writer once said that, in order to properly build up dramatic tension, you have to push your character out on a limb and then saw through it. You couldn’t follow that advice more closely than with Davos I, which is why his story line in A Storm of Swords is one of the best in all of ASOIAF. (Incidentally, though I’m going to try my level best, it’s pretty hard to out-do PoorQuentyn when it comes to analyzing Davos, so you should probably read his stuff first.) It begins with the protagonist in one of the worst situations imaginable: marooned on a barren rock, assailed by the ravages of disease, exposure, dehydration, starvation, and disease:

“For days now the fever had been burning through him, turning his bowels to brown water and making him shiver in his restless sleep. Each morning found him weaker. It will not be much longer, he had taken to telling himself.”

“If the fever did not kill him, thirst surely would. He had no fresh water here, but for the occasional rainfall that pooled in hollows on the rock. Only three days past (or had it been four? On his rock, it was hard to tell the days apart) his pools had been dry as old bone, and the sight of the bay rippling green and grey all around him had been almost more than he could bear. Once he began to drink seawater the end would come swiftly, he knew, but all the same he had almost taken that first swallow, so parched was his throat. A sudden squall had saved him. He had grown so feeble by then that it was all he could do to lie in the rain with his eyes closed and his mouth open, and let the water splash down on his cracked lips and swollen tongue. But afterward he felt a little stronger, and the island’s pools and cracks and crevices once more had brimmed with life.”

“And if not thirst or fever, starvation would kill him. His island was no more than a barren spire jutting up out of the immensity of Blackwater Bay. When the tide was low, he could sometimes find tiny crabs along the stony strand where he had washed ashore after the battle. They nipped his fingers painfully before he smashed them apart on the rocks to suck the meat from their claws and the guts from their shells.”

“Once, in desperation, he had tried rubbing two pieces of driftwood against each other, but the wood was rotted, and his efforts earned him only blisters. His clothes were sodden as well, and he had lost one of his boots somewhere in the bay before he washed up here.”

This is Man vs. Nature, stripped of any of the bowdlerized romanticism of Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson. The body is systematically stripped of agency and dignity, nature offers little bounty and much danger, and survival is a constant losing battle for the barest scraps of sustenance.  But what makes it something more than an attempt to copy Hemingway is that Davos is simultaneously eroding from within, worn down by grief, guilt, and battlefield trauma:

 “Thirst; hunger; exposure. They were his companions, with him every hour of every day, and in time he had come to think of them as his friends. Soon enough, one or the other of his friends would take pity on him and free him from this endless misery. Or perhaps he would simply walk into the water one day, and strike out for the shore that he knew lay somewhere to the north, beyond his sight. It was too far to swim, as weak as he was, but that did not matter. Davos had always been a sailor; he was meant to die at sea. The gods beneath the waters have been waiting for me, he told himself. It’s past time I went to them.”

“He watched the sail grow for a long time, trying to decide whether he would sooner live or die. Dying would be easier, he knew. All he had to do was crawl inside his cave and let the ship pass by, and death would find him.”

Throughout this chapter, Davos is hounded by memories of the Battle of Blackwater, all the way from the fleet entering the bay to the destruction of the flight by wildfire, to how he managed to escape the flames and the wrecks by swimming under the boom chain. While the lengthy recitation (which I refrained from quoting because I’m not recapping that battle twice) is partially intended to remind the reader of what happened, since three years had passed between the publication of the two books, I think it’s also suggesting a compulsive need to relive trauma.

As a result of Davos’ inability to forget, he spends much of the chapter contemplating suicide. Thus, Davos I is not merely a story of the struggle for survival, but also about the struggle to want to survive, which is why the appearance of the ship is so important, because it forces Davos to confront the choice between life or death rather than passively submitting to the inevitable:

“But now there was a sail; only a speck on the horizon, but growing larger. A ship where no ship should be. He knew where his rock lay, more or less; it was one of a series of sea monts…Sailors called them spears of the merling king, and knew that for every one that broke the surface, a dozen lurked treacherously just below it. Any captain with sense kept his course well away from them.”

“Davos watched the sail swell through pale red-rimmed eyes, and tried to hear the sound of the wind caught in the canvas. She is coming this way. Unless she changed course soon, she would pass within hailing distance of his meager refuge. It might mean life. If he wanted it. He was not sure he did.”

The impossibility of the situation – the fact that the ship is still out in Blackwater Bay after the battle, that it’s willing to patrol waters made treacherous by “spears of the merling king,” the fact that Davos is alive at all – is an example of Deus Ex Machina (link) working as intended. While on one level, the ship is there to get Davos out of an impossible situation, on another level, it actually creates a whole new set of problems by intensifying his survivor’s guilt.

A Man With Purpose

With the arrival of the boat, therefore, Davos had to confront the death of his four sons. The ancients summarized the way that war – especially civil war – inverts the natural order with Herodotus’ maxim that “in peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” The sheer scale of Davos’ loss demands something more than history, answers that can only be found in tragedy – whether it’s Macduff’s chilling lament of “all my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/At one fell swoop?” or Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs. Bixby (which brings to mind poor unseen Marya Seaworth, whose reaction to these deaths we have yet to see):

Why should I live? he thought as tears blurred his vision. Gods be good, why? My sons are dead, Dale and Allard, Maric and Matthos, perhaps Devan as well. How can a father outlive so many strong young sons? How would I go on? I am a hollow shell, the crab’s died, there’s nothing left inside. Don’t they know that?

…the Father protects his children, the septons taught, but Davos had led his boys into the fire. Dale would never give his wife the child they had prayed for, and Allard, with his girl in Oldtown and his girl in King’s Landing and his girl in Braavos, they would all be weeping soon. Matthos would never captain his own ship, as he’d dreamed. Maric would never have his knighthood.

How can I live when they are dead? So many brave knights and mighty lords have died, better men than me, and highborn. Crawl inside your cave, Davos. Crawl inside and shrink up small and the ship will go away, and no one will trouble you ever again. Sleep on your stone pillow, and let the gulls peck out your eyes while the crabs feast on your flesh. You’ve feasted on enough of them, you owe them. Hide, smuggler. Hide, and be quiet, and die.

As this quote shows, Davos’ grief is grounded in the obliteration of his line, which unites his sons’ foreshortened lives and the truncation of their hopes for family and fortune with his own battered sense of self. As we’ve seen from Davos I onwards, the Onion Knight has always reconciled his two sides as both smuggler and knight through a story of upward social mobility. However painful it may have been to lose his fingers, and however much he might be too old to be anything other than a nouveau riche, Davos took pride in knowing that his sacrifice meant that his sons were knights born and raised. With his sons dead, not only is his sacrifice is made meaningless, but his very identity is called into question. Ironically, given the way in which his smuggler past has and will continue to keep him alive, Davos equates his smuggler identity with death and his knightly identity with deserving to live.

As we can see with his last few sentences, Davos’ guilt is literally trying to kill him, not only because he survived the battle, but also because he blames himself for leading “his boys into the flame.” At the same time, Davos’ invocation of the Seven here is an interesting preview of the religious theme, with the paterfamilias of House Seaworth feeling as if he’s fallen short of the standards that the gods have set – a subject I’ll discuss more in a minute.

Encapsulating this complex bundle of loss, grief, and status anxiety, is the synecdoche of Davos’ fingerbones:

His hand reached for his throat, fumbling for the small leather pouch he always wore about his neck. Inside he kept the bones of the four fingers his king had shortened for him, on the day he made Davos a knight. My luck. His shortened fingers patted at his chest, groping, finding nothing. The pouch was gone, and the fingerbones with them. Stannis could never understand why he’d kept the bones. “To remind me of my king’s justice,” he whispered through cracked lips. But now they were gone. The fire took my luck as well as my sons.

As we’ve seen in ACOK, the bones have always been a complicated symbol for Davos, representing both loyalty to Stannis and admiration for his uncompromising sense of justice, Davos’ remarkable good fortune and the prospects of upward mobility, and most of all, the way in which his smuggler-side and knight-side are bound together in the inciting incident of running a blockade to deliver supplies to a caslte under siege. Their loss mirrors Davos’ evolving relationship with Stannis: rather than gaining him status and land, service has brought him loss far more profound than a few fingertips, and (after his defeat at the Battle of Blackwater and his moral compromises made to get there) Stannis’ judgement is no longer beyond question.

In his grief, Davos comes to associate his loss with the fire, and the fire with Melisandre. On one level, I think we’re meant to see this as an irrational and unjust act of projection – Melisandre had nothing to do with the wildfire and will say as much when she next talks to the Onion Knight, and indeed all of her actions at Storm’s End were directed toward averting the future she saw in her fires. On the other hand, Melisandre’s one chapter from ADWD at least suggests that the Red Priestess has Davos’ fingerbones, which points in the other direction and raises some serious questions. How did Melisandre get the fingerbones from the bottom of Blackwater Bay? Why does she want them? She mentions that “the strongest glamors are built of such things,” but what illusion would she need that particular fetish for?

Speaking to the Mother

And here we get to what is, speaking frankly, the strangest and most confusing part of this chapter, where Davos experiences a full-blown religious epiphany. Now, this is the only time that the Seven appear to act at any time in ASOIAF, whereas we have already seen (and will continue to see) the followers of the Old Gods and R’hllor wielding supernatural power. Even then, the situation is rather ambiguous:

In his dreams the river was still aflame and demons danced upon the waters with fiery whips in their hands, while men blackened and burned beneath the lash. “Mother, have mercy,” Davos prayed. “Save me, gentle Mother, save us all. My luck is gone, and my sons.” He was weeping freely now, salt tears streaming down his cheeks. “The fire took it all… the fire….”

Perhaps it was only wind blowing against the rock, or the sound of the sea on the shore, but for an instant Davos Seaworth heard her answer. “You called the fire,” she whispered, her voice as faint as the sound of waves in a seashell, sad and soft. “You burned us…burned us…burrrrned usssssss.”

“It was her!” Davos cried. “Mother, don’t forsake us. It was her who burned you, the red woman, Melisandre, her!” He could see her; the heart-shaped face, the red eyes, the long coppery hair, her red gowns moving like flames as she walked, a swirl of silk and satin. She had come from Asshai in the east, she had come to Dragonstone and won Selsye and her queen’s men for her alien god, and then the king, Stannis Baratheon himself. He had gone so far as to put the fiery heart on his banners, the fiery heart of R’hllor, Lord of Light and God of Flame and Shadow. At Melisandre’s urging, he had dragged the Seven from their sept at Dragonstone and burned them before the castle gates, and later he had burned the godswood at Storm’s End as well, even the heart tree, a huge white weirwood with a solemn face.

“It was her work,” Davos said again, more weakly. Her work, and yours, onion knight. You rowed her into Storm’s End in the black of night, so she might loose her shadow child. You are not guiltless, no. You rode beneath her banner and flew it from your mast. You watched the Seven burn at Dragonstone, and did nothing. She gave the Father’s justice to the fire, and the Mother’s mercy, and the wisdom of the Crone. Smith and Stranger, Maid and Warrior, she burnt them all to the glory of her cruel god, and you stood and held your tongue. Even when she killed old Maester Cressen, even then, you did nothing.

It’s worth noting that, in comparison to the flashier and more visible manifestation of other gods, this one remains rather ambiguous: a starving, dehydrated man in the throws of suicidal grief and PTSD who hears voices that could easily be hallucinations, and which just so happen to coincide with his previous thinking and opinions. It’s also a strange moment because Davos’ born-again convictions don’t really last that long or become an enduring part of the character. That’s not to say that he isn’t an introspective person, but it’s just that (after Davos II of ASOS) he’s primarily going to be grappling with Melisandre’s religion and the very human moral dilemmas that Stannis will pose him.

Indeed, a lot of Davos’ dialogue here has a lot more to do with his projection of guilt and blame onto Melisandre – partially because people will almost anything to avoid intense feelings of guilt, and partially because he can’t allow himself to blame Stannis (who after all, was the overall commander during the Battle of Blackwater). But as human as that impulse may be, what makes Davos admirable as a character (Westeros’ most honest man, and all that) is that he doesn’t let himself off the hook when it comes to culpability. As we saw in Davos II of ACOK, he’s been an active participant in Stannis’ morally ambiguous drive for the Iron Throne, but the onion knight goes further to point out that he was a participant (however reluctant) in the burning of the Seven on Dragonstone, and even blames himself for Cressen’s death despite the fact that the old man  actively and insistently sought out his death.

Speaking of which, one of the truly enduring things to come out of this chapter is that Davos begins to move away from his slavish devotion to Stannis (“King Stannis is my god”) to a position where he’s internalized the idea of loyal service meaning fighting for what’s in Stannis’ best interest as opposed to what Stannis wants to do. This development is absolutely crucial to the onion knight’s arc when he gets to Dragonstone and has to run a gauntlet of political and moral dilemmas.

Who Are You (Who, Who)?

While his born-again identity might be a passing phase, it’s also important for this moment that Davos finds in the Mother a reason to live that pushes him past his suicidal depression. However, just wanting to live is not the solution to all of his problems, because he’s instantly forced to solve his identity crisis as well :

If he fell he was dead, and he had to live. For a little while more, at least. There was something he had to do.

 “…Ship,” he screamed into the wind. “Ship, here, here!” From up here, he could see her more clearly; the lean striped hull, the bronze figurehead, the billowing sail. There was a name painted on her hull, but Davos had never learned to read. “Ship,” he called again, “help me, HELP ME!”

“…You,” the fifth man called out when they were only a few feet from his island, “you up on the rock. Who are you?”

A smuggler who rose above himself, thought Davos, a fool who loved his king too much, and forgot his gods. “I…was in the battle. I was in the battle. I was…a captain, a…knight…”

I find this exchange fascinating, because the interior and exterior response is so wildly divergent. In his own mind, Davos’ answer is a rueful, self-deprecatory reckoning with his own flaws, whether it’s his social climber’s pride, his unquestioning and unthinking devotion to Stannis, and his moral abdication when it came to Melisandre’s reformation. But in his outward response, Davos presents himself as a ship’s captain and a knight, because he knows that only “knights and lordlings…take each other captive and pay ransom,” and he doesn’t know which king the sailors are loyal to:

“Aye, ser,” the man said, “and serving which king?”

The galley might be Joffrey’s, he realized suddenly. If he spoke the wrong name now, she would abandon him to his fate. But no…The Mother sent her here, the Mother in her mercy. She had a task for him. Stannis lives, he knew then. I have a king still. And sons, I have other sons, and a wife loyal and loving. How could he have forgotten? The Mother was merciful indeed.

“Stannis,” he shouted back at the Lyseni. “Gods be good, I serve King Stannis.”

Faced with an uncertain choice, where the wrong answer could mean a slow death at worst and capture at best, Davos, the most honest man and most loyal lord in all of Westeros, chooses to tell the truth. And while Salladhor Saan’s striped sails make his choice easier, Davos would never have given any other answer. At the same time, Davos’ loyalty goes further than just picking a side – he doesn’t say merely that he fought for one side, or that his allegiance was to one side, but that he serves Stannis and that to abandon him now would be to leave him with only Melisandre and the Florents for counsel. More importantly, the question of identity to the question of purpose is accomplished through a crucial act of recollection: in the face of the tunnel vision of grief, Davos remembers that he still has a family who needs him, for whom his suicide would have been an unforgivably selfish betrayal at their moment of need.

Historical Analysis:

While it may seem implausible that Davos could survive his ordeal at Blackwater Bay, history gives us some amazing examples of mariners who made it through far worse – proof that the very real frailty of the human frame is counter-balanced by an astonishing capacity for survival:

Gonzalo de Vigo, who holds the record of being the first recorded European castaway in the Pacific Ocean, was a Spanish sailor who deserted from Magellan’s convoy in 1522. Gonzalo apparently integrated well into the native Chamorros people of the Maug Islands (which was lucky for him since the two other deserters were killed by the Chamorros) and lived with them for four years touring the nearby Marianas Islands. We know this because de Vigo was found by the Loaísa Expedition in 1526 in Guam, some 456 miles from where he originally deserted, and recorded his experiences. A rather impressive solo sailor, you must admit.

Marguerite de La Rocque

Marguerite de La Rocque may be the most famous female castaway. A French noblewoman who was journeying to Quebec in 1542 along with her relative Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval (who had recently been named Lieutenant General of New France), the unmarried Marguerite had an affair with a young man on board. Either motivated by his strong Calvinist faith or a a desire to usurp her inheritance, Roberval marooned Marguerite on (I kid you not) the Isle of Demons at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. With minimal tools and supplies and the active presence of both wolves and bears, Marguerite managed to survive on the Isle of Demons despite the death of her lover, her maid-servant, and her baby, for three years before getting a ride back home from a group of Basque fishermen.

Abraham Leeman and co. might be one of the most impressive cases, combining both hideous bad luck and ingenuity. Upper Steersman Leeman and his crew of 13 were members of the crew of the Waeckende Boey, a Dutch East India Compnay ship that in March of 1658 was searching for the shipwrecked crew of the Vergulde Draeck (a famous castaway story in its own right). Somehow during the search, Leeman and his men were abandoned in a small, rickety boat with almost no supplies and no water, roughly 100 miles north of Perth.  Somehow, Leeman and crew managed to supply themselves by killing seals for meat and hides to repair their boat, digging a well on the island they had been abandoned off, and constructing a makeshift compass. They then sailed 1,550 miles from the western coast of Australia to the island of Java, where they proceeded to shipwreck, and then walk all the way around the southern coast of Java.

What If?

In a chapter whether the only real question is whether the protagonist will live or die, there really is only one hypothetical worth considering:

  • Davos had died? This is clearly the darkest timeline imaginable, and the consequences make it quite clear. First of all, Axell Florent becomes Hand of the King, which means that Stannis stays at Dragonstone and wastes his time sacking Claw Isle rather than sailing to the Wall in time, which quite likely means that Stannis is there when Loras Tyrell attacks. In those circumstances, Stannis definitely decides that Edric Storm has to die to save the world. However, rather than a true birth of a dragon (link), an uncontrollable horrible shadow-beast is birthed, likely destroying both fleets at harbor. Thus, when Daenerys comes back to the place of her birth, she will find only death and destruction.
  • At the same time, Mance’s wildling army storms over the Wall, massacring the Night’s Watch (including the turncloak Jon Snow) along the way. They run headlong into Roose Bolton and a savage, no-holds-barred war erupts in which Ramsay’s sadism is pitched against that of Harma Dogshead and the Weeper. The only hope left is that the Others will come across the now-profaned Wall and put us all out of our misery.

Book vs. Show:

As I have said before, one of the places where the HBO show has consistently fallen short compared to the books is in expressing the interiority of its characters. Many show-first readers have expressed real amazement at how much richer characters like Ned Stark are on the page, where you get their interior monologue.

While I would generally be opposed to HBO resorting to voice-over – as a fan of noir, I’m not opposed to that technique but it doesn’t suit fantasy in the same way it does detective fiction – I do think there alternatives that the show has not explored. The soliloquy may be a trifle theatrical as writing techniques go, but there’s a reason why it has endured for thousand and thousands of years as a staple vehicle for allowing characters to express themselves more artfully than baldly stating their motivations and desires to one another in awkward, unrealistic conversations.

This scene in the show is perfectly suited for a soliloquy; if there is any point in someone’s life where they need to vent their emotions and curse the gods, this is it. And while I’ll never say a negative word about Liam Cunningham’s performance as Davos Seaworth – as far as I’m concerned, he is Davos Seaworth and always will be – I don’t think the Season 3 script quite did him justice. In this specific instance, Davos’ shift to wanting to kill Melisandre comes out of nowhere, because without verbalizing his religious experience here, the viewer has no context for why he feels this need.

You know what’s great for communicating these kind of psychological changes? A soliloquy.

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81 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Davos I, ASOS

  1. Winnief says:

    Thanks for giving us such another great analysis.

    ITA that Liam Cunningham IS Davos. It’s impossible to picture anyone else in the role. Do wish we could have soliloquy’s but hey the show did invent moments like Davos’s scenes with Shireen (Sob) and his great speech to the Iron Bank so at least we know they ‘get’ him. Not so sure they ever ‘got’ Stannis, (though, Stephen Dillane certainly did.) I think the writing there was colored by their knowing Shireen’s ultimate fate which always left them disliking the character to begin with.

    Actually thought, it was interesting that this was the first truly positive vision we see of the Seven as a source of spiritual comfort-especially among Westeros’s commoners.

    Speaking of surviving unbelievable shipwrecks have you ever read about Shackleton?!?

    I’m not sure that Stannis’s sacrifice of Shireen even when it does happen WILL actually help birth a true dragon-or serve much good. D&D change a LOT-too much really, but if Shireen’s death really did serve some greater purpose I think they would have kept that in. Guess we’ll never really know, unless Martin ever actually finishes TWOW.

    The big difference to me is that without Stannis’s intervention at the Wall, the divided North can’t possibly defend itself from the Night’s King. Also while again this may only be the show version, but it seems like Davos has a pretty important role to play in future events in the North as well.

    FYI, one show change I DO like, is seeing Davos/Jon who make a GREAT pairing. Not to mention Davos/Jon/Sansa.

    • Andrew says:

      Personally, I can’t wait for Jon and Davos to meet in TWoW. They’d make a great team.

      One thing I have noticed, Davos wears gloves to cover his disfigured left hand which had the tips of his fingers cut off while Jon wears gloves to cover his disfigured right hand which was burned. Could be a way of saying they are destined for each other, going together like a right and left hand?

      My personal theory is that Jon fights the Boltons like in the show only instead of Vale forces arriving, Davos arrives from Eastwatch with an army of Skagosi (and their unicorns) as well as giants and their mammoths (akin to the Drunken Giant at the Battle of Long Lake). That’s how they meet.

    • You’re very welcome!

      Yeah, but I was going for shipwrecks that went well.

  2. They will bend the knee says:

    Yeah ! First Davos chapter in nearly eight moths ! 😀 I’m happy !

    And now, to go read it.

  3. Keith B says:

    To the list of infrastructure that Westeros badly needs, add lighthouses.

    Since this chapter is directly after Tyrion I, it seems that Davos was stranded on the rock for three weeks or more, unless GRRM is playing games with the sequencing of chapters.

    I can’t completely agree on the lack of interiority in the show versus the books. Many of the actors are able to portray much of what’s going on in their characters’ minds. Lena Headey is particularly great at this, but she’s not the only one. Conversely, I’m sometimes disappointed at the lack of interiority in the books. I commented on the Mercy segment of the show before. In the Mercy chapter, either there’s surprisingly little going on in Arya’s head, considering the situation she’s in, or GRRM is deliberately hiding it from us. In the show, we know much more of what she’s thinking, without voice-over or soliloquies.

  4. If Davos dies, it also means that the remaining Starks never reunite because no one will possible venture out to Skagos Island to try and find Rickon Stark.

    Without Davos the world ends, damn what a horrific scenario especially when Stannis would go off in the deep end and never recover. Although morbidly thinking it would be interesting to see Stannis’s confrontation with Loras Tyrell who the latter blames for Renly’s death. It would seem pretty reminiscent of Brienne calling Renly the rightful king and then killing Stannis. Not to mention the brutal war between the Wildings and Ramsay Snow, Seven Hells, that is just black and very dark grey morality at that point.

    As agreed Liam Cunningham is one of the few things that makes Game of Thrones worth watching. It makes you wish Ned Stark had his own Davos beside to keep him out of trouble. What makes it for sad for Show Davos, is that he doesn’t even have a family to come back to even if he survives the oncoming White Walker invasion.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      Wyman Manderly was going to behead him if the Freys had noticed the swap. Davos is an asset in getting Rickon, but he’s not irreplaceable.

    • David Hunt says:

      If Stannis had been in command when Loras stormed Dragonstone, I’m pretty confident that he’d have fallen into some sort of trap that Stannis concocted to repel the attack and died. More cautious commanders would then have gone back to siege tactics.

    • Good point wrt to Skagos.

  5. Andrew says:

    An excellent work, Maester Steven.

    1. This chapter reminds me a lot of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

    2. “As he knifed through the green murk, he saw other men struggling beneath the water, pulled down to drown beneath the weight of plate and mail. Davos swam past them, kicking with all the strength left in his legs”

    Kind of serves as a contrast to the glorious detail given to the battle above the water in King’s Landing by the Tyrells and Lannisters.

    3. He’s on the spears of the merling king, and he will later find himself at the Merman’s Court.

    4. As to Melisandre keeping his finger bones for an illusion, maybe she wants to glamour a Queen’s man as Davos if she thinks the real one is out of the picture. After all, if he has already come back after having been thought dead twice, who would suspect a third time? She would effectively have “Davos,” her biggest court rival on her side.

    • 1. Very very true.

      2. Yep. Shiny armor can kill.

      3. Very true.

      4. Maybe, but to what end? Stannis isn’t at the Wall, and the people who are there are all Queen’s Men.

    • Satriani says:

      Sorry, I can’t find find hat part in Mel’s chapter. Please, could anyone quote that?

      • Andrew says:

        “The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

  6. stephendanay says:

    I never took Melisandre having finger bones in her Dance chapter to imply that they belonged to Davos. I thought it was just a little wink at the reader. Doesn’t really seem to be any plausible way should could have obtained them.

    • Ethan Halliday says:

      She doesn’t have them or even claim to, she just suggests them as a possible aide to performing a glamour. In my opinion it just signifies that she’s considered the possibility of having someone impersonate Davos at some point in the past, which is not exactly an unreasonable idea given that he’s her strongest opponent at court and having “Davos” on side would allow complete control over Stannis’ counsel.

    • Keith B says:

      If it turns out she does have Davos’ finger bones, the author owes us a good explanation of how she got them. On a scale ranging from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “highly unlikely”, the theory that Melisandre has Davos’ bones is on the low end.

    • If it’s just an example, it’s a suspiciously specific example.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Same here. This is the first I’ve heard of a theory about her having them, it never crossed my mind.

  7. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Awesome analysis, Steve.
    Will we ever find out who worships the Merling King?

  8. Keith B says:

    If Davos dies and Stannis stays on Dragonstone, then Loras doesn’t attack, or the attack fails. If Stannis is on Dragonstone, there are nearly 2000 men to defend it instead of just a handful. The Redwyne fleet would need to starve him out.

    • beto2702 says:

      Which is not going to happen with the fleet busy with Euron.

    • John G says:

      The Lannisters and Tyrells would probably allot a bigger army to attack Dragonstone then because Cersei said in one of her POV chapters that they judged 2k to be sufficient to take the lightly garrisoned Dragonstone, which implies they could have prepared a bigger army. So that means a bunch of the Westerlanders that left after Tywin’s death are forced to stay in KL, the Westerlanders at Riverrun are called to the city, and Mace takes a much smaller force to take Storm’s End or just delays the march on the castle entirely until Dragonstone is taken.

    • There would be an attack, but with more men.

    • Keith B says:

      How large an army? Dragonstone has to be one of the strongest fortresses in Westeros. Possibly only the Eyrie and Casterly Rock are stronger. With the token force Stannis left behind (I’m unable to find out how many) assaulting Dragonstone cost nearly 1000 men.

      Assuming you need ten attackers for every defender, that’s 20,000 men. Cersei doesn’t have that many. What’s left of the Westerlands army has either fulfulled its military obligations and gone home, or is needed to pacify the Riverlands. Why would Mace Tyrell be willing to accept enormous casualties when besieging the garrison is bound to work eventually? That’s not his style at all.

      If Stannis remains at Dragonstone with his full force, an assault doesn’t happen. And when the Ironborn start attacking the Reach, Paxter Redwyne would decide to ignore Cersei’s orders and sail back to protect the Arbor.

      • She’s got plenty of men on hand, and Mace/Loras would be much more willing when the Reach is under attack.

        As for ignoring orders, he didn’t do it in OTL, why would he in this TL?

        • Keith B says:

          I wondered why Paxter Redwyne was willing to continue the siege of Dragonstone while the Ironborn were threatening the Arbor. We’ve seen before that even Tywin had trouble commanding the obedience of his lords when their homes were threatened, and Cersei is no Tywin. When she wanted Mace to besiege Storm’s End she had to appeal to his vanity rather than commanding him directly. So my only guess is that Redwyne hadn’t received word of the Ironborn attack or was unable to disengage his forces from the island before Loras volunteered to take Dragonstone by assault, thus making direct disobedience unnecessary. Margaery went to Cersei as soon as she heard the news, and Loras volunteered for the mission in the same meeting. Meanwhile Paxter may have been at sea and out of the reach of ravens.

  9. Steven Xue says:

    For me this chapter is one of the biggest shockers of the series. I guess its mainly because after Blackwater I pegged him for dead. I mean seriously Davos have been within the blast radius of the wildfire attack and really there is no way he could have survived, at least without most of his body getting charred.

    Just wondering, why do you assume Melisandre’s king’s blood sacrifice will result in some horrific shadow monster being born? Don’t you think it is at all plausible that her ritual will turn out to be a boon in giving Stannis a dragon?

    • Andrew says:

      For Steven, he thinks the stone beast breathing shadowfire in Dany’s HotU visions is the shadow beast Melisandre will wake, but I differ in that interpretation. I think it refers to another king as was the case with the mummer’s dragon and Stannis.

      I think it might be akin to GRRM’s kds’ book, The Ice Dragon. The story has a girl, Adara, who is described as cold not smiling, weeping or laughing (like Stannis) who manages to mount an ice dragon. When three fire dragons come swooping in north to attack her home, the ice dragon fights them, and ends up dying with the dragon’s sacrifice saving her father’s life.

      I think in this case, it will be a father sacrificing his daughter to waken some kind of shadow/ice dragon.

      • poorquentyn says:

        I don’t think the sacrifice of Shireen wakes anything at all. I feel like that would detract from the stark, tragic clarity of the moment in which Stannis realizes he’s not Azor Ahai and that he sacrificed his only child for nothing.

        M’self, I think the stone beast vision is Euron commanding an ensorceled dragon, and that the “smoking tower” is the Hightower. That would fit your “another king” criterion: Stannis, Aegon, and Euron. Plus, there’s this:

        “Perhaps we can fly. All of us. How will we ever know, unless we leap from some tall tower?”

        • Andrew says:

          I think it will be a shadow/ice dragon summoned only for Stannis to be killed in battle along with it.

          The problem with the Euron theory is the stone beast is supposed to go under “slayer of lies.” There is no lie involved in that scenario akin to Stannis being AA or Aegon being the real deal. As for the dragon, Euron doesn’t have the dragonhorn anymore, and Moqorro sabotaged it.

          I think the stone beast is Jon, his is the lie of being Ned’s bastard. Like Stannis and Aegon’s lies, his lie has large political implications.

          • poorquentyn says:

            I think the lie in Euron’s case is this: “The bleeding star bespoke the end,” and all that implies.

            I sincerely doubt Dragonbinder CAN be unbound, though I don’t doubt that Moqorro tried.

            As for Jon…I don’t see how it’s Dany that exposes the truth of his parentage. Given that she doesn’t, y’know, have any idea about that, or indeed about Jon at all. Also, how does that sync up remotely with the image? What’s the smoking tower?

          • Andrew says:

            The lies presented in the case of Aegon and Stannis are publicly tied to their claims to the IT. The throne goes to Aegon because he is Rhaegar’s son or it goes to Stannis since he is the chosen savior. That lie doesn’t seem to be tied to Euron’s claim to the IT. It doesn’t have the political impact the other lies do.

            Moqorro can likely unbind the horn as he wouldn’t anyone to pose a threat to who he believes to be AA. It sounds simple that horn could simply be bound to someone else. I don’t think there is any evidence it can’t be unbound.

            I think Jon and Dany will eventually meet. My guess is that she slays the lie unintentionally. She would no doubt feel threatened by the claim of Jon being Rhaegar’s son since it means she loses her claim and it turns the story she lived her life by on its head. King Arthur had to pull a sword from the stone to prove his heritage, or given to him by the lady of the lake. I think she would pose the challenge to Jon to mount one of her dragons to prove his heritage, thinking he would be killed and remove any doubts to his heritage. That would be a kind of subversion of the lady of the lake giving Arthur what would prove the crown was his. There is precedent for it when Addam of Hull mounted Seasmoke, and was accepted as a Velaryon. Jon would mount a dragon successfully, and that would prove his claim that he is Rhaegar’s son.

            The stone beast breathing shadow fire is likely a dragon. Sansa’s alias is “Alayne Stone” when hiding in the Vale, Rickon is hiding on Skagos which means “stone” in the Old Tongue, and even Arya hides Needle (which ties to her Stark identity) under a stone in the stairs. Dragons in prophecies as THK demonstrates, refer to Targaryens. Ergo, a stone dragon could mean a hidden Targaryen. The tower could refer to the Tower of Joy. Ned tore down the Tower of Joy to make cairns, and burning it down wouldn’t be out of place for demolition since it would have taken forever for Ned and Howland Reed to deconstruct it by hand and stone by stone.

        • I don’t this works at all, the trip from Meereen to the Arbor would take too long given the immanent nature of Euron’s battle.

    • Because of Dany’s dragon, personally.

    • What Andrew said. Shadow beast breathing shadow flame suggests some kind of false dragon to me.

  10. David Hunt says:

    I find it interesting that you consider Davos’ contact with the Mother to have a real chance of being legitimate. As you point out, it is the only place in the series where there even might be a direct manifestation of the Seven and it’s too a man who’s dying of thirst and fever. To be honest, I’m pretty much of the opinion that there’s no supernatural force behind the Faith of the Seven at all.

    Of course, I also think that there aren’t any actual deities in world of Planetos at all, so that would follow.

    • I agree the text is ambiguous. It’s certainly the closest the Seven get.

      And as for Planetos as a whole, someone has to be speaking when the voice from the fire talks.

      • David Hunt says:

        I’ll grant that is on of the biggest things pointing toward some intelligent guiding force in the world. They’re rough to explain. I tell myself that the voice from the flames was how the sorcerer’s spell manifested it’s divinatory revelation, much like Mellisandre sees visions in the flames. I know that’s a reach.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I am still of a firm opinion that the Old Gods are absolutely real, although I’m such a Starkist that I suppose I would think that even if GRRM came out and said there are No Gods At All.

      Which he hasn’t, he specifically said we will never see any proof one way or another so that we can make up our own minds.

      • David Hunt says:

        I’m pretty sure that the Old Gods are real, but that they’re not gods. They’re the network of all those greenseers that have been preserved and are worshiped, at least be the First Men. I don’t know if the Children actually worship the Old Gods.

        Though, I suppose at that point, it’s a matter of what you want to say is a genuine deity and what’s just a powerful supernatural force in the world.

  11. beto2702 says:

    What if Davos lives… but is found by a Lannister ship? If he’s taken prisoner, does it go the same way as him dying?

  12. JGolden says:

    Great post as always, Steven.

    This chapter is the one that made me truly interested in Davos on my first read. In A Clash for Kings he is undoubtedly important, but I wanted to be reading about Starks and Tyrion and was a bit impatient with his chapters notwithstanding their great content. In this book, however, he comes into his own as a compelling character, and this chapter made me look forward to seeing the words “Davos” at the start of future chapters in the series.

    You’ve covered everything in your post except for one tinfoil theory that I don’t believe to be true but that is interesting nonetheless. What if Davos is Azor Ahai/Prince that was Promised? According to Melisandre: “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.” Davos seems to satisfy these criteria in a way that no one else does so far. Davos is reborn amongst smoke (from the wildfire) and salt (the sea). He also seems to have been very close to dead when he made it up on to this island. I’m not sure if the “red star” or comet is still around at the time of the Battle of Blackwater or not or how this would play into things, but it’s there.

    As I said, I do not believe the theory. My personal opinion (which is only an opinion) is that the prophecy is not literal; and, moreover, GRRM will never reveal who the Prince who was Promised/Azor Ahai is or if there is even one character that satisfies the criteria. The prophecy is there to influence how the characters act, but not something that is literal or possibly even true. (I do not believe the same is true for the visions Dany experiences, so perhaps I’m being inconsistent). Legends told about the events in “A Song of Ice and Fire” will decide in order to interpret and reinterpret the myth ala Robert Jordan (in fact the whole story seems to be a bit of a shout out to the Dragon Reborn, as I do not believe any other prophecies iin aSoIAF involve rebirth like the Azor Ahai one). I don’t think someone like GRRM (who I believe is an atheist) will play this one straight. But I do find it interesting to think about how things could turn out if Davos is the Prince/Azor Ahai Reborn, and it would be ironic if Davos turned out to be the man rather than Stannis (not to mention Dany, Jon, etc.).

    Just throwing this out there for thoughts.

    • Glad you liked it!

      I don’t like the AA thing for Davos because I think it threatens the taproot of Davos’ function in the story as the perspective of the working class. If he’s secretly the messiah, he kind of loses that connection to the ordinary person.

  13. poorquentyn says:

    Great work, and thanks for the shout-out ❤

  14. Brett says:

    I’m not so certain that Jon dies at the Wall if Stannis doesn’t show. I feel like he’d be flexible enough to flee with a handful of survivors to the south to give the warning . . although he would avoid the Boltons directly, if possible.

    They run headlong into Roose Bolton and a savage, no-holds-barred war erupts in which Ramsay’s sadism is pitched against that of Harma Dogshead and the Weeper.

    That would be a massacre, not a war. The North would mobilize against the wildlings, and there’s no way they’re going to survive in battle against northern forces and fighters. They’ve defeated, and butchered in appalling fashion (with a small number of survivors fleeing into the wolfswood).

    • Sean C. says:

      Previous Wildling armies have inflicted grievous losses on the North when they were at full strength, whereas the North they’re invading now has suffering massive casualties, and its most organized forces are at that point still trapped below the Neck.

    • David Hunt says:

      Without Stannis, Jon is either killed by the Wildlings for his attempt to murder Mance (successful or not) or he his hung for “treason” by Janos Slynt for not murdering Mance.

    • Jon is Mance’s camp at the end of the battle, he’s a dead man.

      I don’t think the North would have time.

  15. Sean C. says:

    Faced with an uncertain choice, where the wrong answer could mean a slow death at worst and capture at best, Davos, the most honest man and most loyal lord in all of Westeros, chooses to tell the truth. And while Salladhor Saan’s striped sails make his choice easier, Davos would never have given any other answer.

    I don’t think the moment really supports that. Davos equivocates on who he supports, and then deduces that the men support Stannis; he feels no risk or uncertainty when he announces who he is. The show definitely plays the moment more straightly that way, though (Davos seems to be able to do “honourable” stuff on the show and actually be respected for it, whereas the showrunners pillory the Starks for it).

    Not that I’m not glad to get Davos back, but the circumstances of his return to Dragonstone are definitely one of the more credibility-straining moments. Not merely surviving the inferno, but floating away so far as to land on an island, and then for whatever reason Stannis still has ships in the area weeks later, far from his base of operations, to find him and bring him home.

  16. artihcus022 says:

    The show is on the whole entirely anti-religious in the crudest sub-Hitchens tradition. Whereas the books, even if GRRM is an atheist, is more nuances. Show!Davos is an atheist since his first appearance in Season 2, so I guess the lack of Davos’ religious epiphany at the start is great.

    There’s also the addition of Melisandre and Co. instituting some reign of terror as per Salladhor Saan, which also furthers Davos’ motivations.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      This is quite true. The books at least make an effort to show the positive effects religion can have on both people and society at large.

      • Well I’m mildly religious but I prefer to take the view that religion, like politics, can be used for good and ill. People are flawed so systems they take on are going to be flawed. I think South Park actually gives quite a reasonable view of religion and show just getting rid of religion doesn’t automatically make things better. GRRM isn’t religious but he does try to show both sides rather then simplify it down to bigots going on crusades.

  17. John G says:

    I can’t imagine the wildlings would have any chance against even a reduced Northern army if they got wrecked by Stannis’ relatively smaller army and the winter storms would probably kill most of them anyway. But I guess that is a discussion for later.

    “As I have said before, one of the places where the HBO show has consistently fallen short compared to the books is in expressing the interiority of its characters. Many show-first readers have expressed real amazement at how much richer characters like Ned Stark are on the page, where you get their interior monologue.”

    This is an excellent point and one I have especially noted in my reread. The internal monologues make a big difference for Sansa, Jon, Dany, and Jaime’s characters.

  18. Julian says:

    He lost four fingers, he lost four sons–can’t believe this is the first time I’ve noticed that. I think there’s also an air of Odysseus around Davos–lots of sailing, can’t get back to his wife, uses his wits instead of brawn. Or maybe I just like Odysseus and am projecting. Great work as always.

    • Excellent points all. “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
      driven time and again off course.” That’s Davos right there.

      • artihcus022 says:

        The difference is that Odysseus is a scumbag who sacrifices his crew and rapes and sacks towns to get back to his wife, while Davos would never do any such thing.

        • JGolden says:

          Ulysses is like that, certainly, but is Odysseus? The Greeks and Romans had very different attitudes toward the myth. Even with the Greeks views of him differ widel depending on the author or character telling the story. How Odysseus comes across depends very much on who is telling the story.

          Odysseus in the Odyssey is very grey, just like GRRM’s characters. I don’t think it is fair to him in that story to dismiss him as a “scumbag who scares his crew and rapes and sacks towns.”

          I do agree though that I don’t think Odysseus is that much like Davos.

          • artihcus022 says:

            I was referring solely to Odysseus of The Odyssey where he openly admits after being rescued by Nausicaa and brought the court and hearing Demodocus, about his early part of the voyage after Troy, before reaching the cave of the Cyclops. He does do all those things and he is entirely remorseless about it.

            The Greeks didn’t have the idealized, moralized attitude towards their own myths and heroes the way we do today, or the way the Romans apparently did with Aeneas and Aeneid (at least in Augustus’ time). For them Odysseus and Achilles are heroes because they are men of action, adventure and daring, morals don’t come into it at all, or rather not morals as we come to know it today. As Harold Bloom said, Odysseus is a dangerous man to be around. He is a compelling and fascinating character, and even a likable one (in his Beggar-King guise, but that ends with the late-act Palace Purge) and he represents the spirit of survival against all odds, which let’s face it would involve, and has involved in real life, crossing many boundaries of human decency. So I actually like the Greek Odysseus more than the Roman one, since it isn’t enlivened by hypocrisy.

            Davos however is different, he’s a survivor and he struggles but he would never cross moral boundaries or do anything to anyone else to survive. I don’t think Odysseus would have batted an eye about sacrificing Edric Storm or he would rape and sack a village under any circumstances.

          • JGolden says:

            Thanks for the clarification. I don’t think our views are all that different after reading it.

          • Andrew says:

            Well, Odysseus is typical among heroes in Greek myth in that regard. Greek heroes weren’t seen as the most morally upstanding citizens like we do going back to the Middle Ages.They were morally complex figures who often failed to act honorably. Achilles, after slaying Hector, rode around in front of the walls of Troy for days with Hector’s corpse tied to his chariot. Theseus abandoned Ariadne on an island who had been instrumental in helping him find and kill the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Hercules was as loyal to his third wife as Robert was to Cersei, and don’t get me started on his first wife.

  19. Yog-Sothoth says:

    ‘The only hope left is that the Others will come across the now-profaned Wall and put us all out of our misery.’
    I love how you weave in these bits of humor in the midst of your insightful analysis. Wish I could do that. 🙂

  20. Winters king says:

    personally i think that the reason people are so sceptical to gods from a song of ice and fire actually existing is that most people who reads it, are christians, or at least grew up in “christian” cultures(nations that predominantly were christians before secularism) and as such they grew up with a very clear idea of what god is. omnipotent. omniscient. and in general a sense that god is something that has control over everything in some way or form. they simply dont see how a nature spirit that watch over you without the ability to directly help you could ever be considered a god.

    reality is that the “gods” of a song of ice and fire generally dont fit that mold(except maybe rhllor) as most of them have more in common with pagan gods, which are more often than not very powerfull spirits rather than omnipotent beings. they are spirits, with varying degree of power, and while there are some really impressive feats among their followers(the hammer of the water, ressurection and so on) they generally dont give off omnipotent vibes that most readers demand from “gods”.

    the old gods would fit right in with the gods of the celtic pagan faith. they give their followers some really creepy yet impressive abilities. nowhere is it suggested though(outside of some old stories such as a bout the rat king) that they are omnipotent, able to change the world as they see fit. their limits are also rather clear. they cannot grant their followers true help in places where no weirwoods grow(or at least thats how their followers see it).

    the seven are a clear stand in for the catholic medieval faith, yet outside of some things that unlike most of these can only be attributed to true magic, have yet to demonstrate any divine abilities. however, despite being based of the trinity, i cant actually recall anywhere in the text where their followers claim they have omnipotent powers. omniscient sure, but i cant recall it ever being claimed that they have the ability to reshape reality in a way that we commonly associate with the christian god.

    the drowned god is different than the others i list here in that his faith is not based on a real world religion at all(the only thing it has in common with any real world faith is that the watery halls are inspired by vallhall) grants his followers the ability to make the dubious powers of CPR a relatively safe procedure, as well as as making it possible to bring back people who drowned long past a point where real world doctors would have given up. like the old gods, the drowned god’s power is also very defined. he has no power in places not connected to the sea.

    the only exception to the not claiming to be omnipotent rule is rhllor, who’s followers very clearly claim to follow an allseeing and all powerfull god. yet despite arguably being the most impressive of the gods we’ve seen, we see time and again that rhllor has very clear limits.

    and thats without going into the demon territory.

    so in other words, i agree with people who think that there are no omnipotent allseeing god in a song of ice and fire, but i cant really get aboard with the idea that there is no gods at all, as we see time and again that most of these powers people have all come from somewhere and the thing that they all have in common is that who they worship affects what abilities they have.

    • JGolden says:

      There is definitely magic. Where it comes from, and if it originates from god/gods remains an open question, and one I think Martin will leave unresolved (based on his comments) in A Song of Ice and Fire.

    • I don’t know about this. We’ve had decades and decades of fantasy novels with quite real and active gods, so it’s not outside of the scope of the reader’s experience.

      • poorquentyn says:

        And honestly, the line between genre trope and religious miracle can be pretty thin, in large part because of how the traditions have informed each other. Is Beric a fire-zombie or Lazarus? Separating the magic from the divine can be knotty, and it might end up being a distinction without difference in a given universe.

  21. Ser Friendzone says:

    I love the use of the Shakespearean aside as a means of both expressing a character’s interior voice & binding the viewer to that character.

    It’s been used in film by characters as varied as Ferris Bueller & Deadpool, but House of Cards has proven that a prestige television drama can use the aside to great effect. It’s too bad they didn’t come along before GoT to show D&D how it’s done.

  22. […] perception of Melisandre, despite the many signs (his illness, his guilt and grief, his potential nervous breakdown) that he’s something of an unreliable narrator on this […]

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