On A Dance with Dragons

dance with dragons

Five weeks, five books. I’ve finally made my way through practically 5,000 pages of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and it’s been quite the literary journey.

I don’t think I’ve ever read so much of one series over such a short time frame before. Yes, there were seven rather lengthy Harry Potter books, but after the first three, those were spread out over a period of years. Rather, I’ve read all Martin’s books in a month or so, all the while watching a show BASED on the books at the same time. I’d be on Game of Thrones overload if such a thing was even possible.

And really, it isn’t. Despite the ups and downs of the series, it’s not one you want to see end, and the need to read the next book is instant and overwhelming. But now, after A Dance with Dragons is done, there is no next book. Not yet, anyway.

A Dance with Dragons is the second half of A Feast for Crows, more or less, due to Martin’s odd structuring of the final two books out of the five he’s released. Crows only had the POVs of half the cast, Jaime, Cersei, Arya, Sam and so on, while Dragons has the others who were missing, Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran, etc. Both occur simultaneously in time, but then there’s an added level of complication when by the end of Dragons, both timelines converge and start to inch forward another few chapters for various characters who were only in the last book.

A heard a Feast for Crows wasn’t terribly good compared to the other books, and that was an assessment I agreed with for the most part. Outside of the splitting of the story, there simply was not much of interest that that happened. Unlike the past three books, there just weren’t the kind of memorable moments that make the series great.

Reviews told me that A Dance with Dragons was as bad or worse as Crows, so I braced for impact. Turns out, I didn’t need to.

In truth, I actually quite liked A Dance with Dragons. No it’s not as good as books one or three, but it’s far better than Crows, even with the split. I suppose at least knowing what the other characters are up to helps, but it’s more than that.


Rather, the books is full of powerful moments, the first one for me being when new Lord Commander Snow struck of Janos Slynt’s head for being an insolent asshole. For me, it’s a toss up between which plotline was better, Jon in the North or Daenerys in the East, but I’ll talk a bit about the former for now, as it leads to perhaps the most dramatic development of the book.

I really liked the way we saw Jon Snow’s character evolve in this book. Kill the boy was the repeated refrain in his own mind, and despite the fact that he’s only 16 or so, he has to be the man the Watch needs in order to ensure its survival. He has to balance pleasing Stannis with defending the wall and making peace with the brotherhood and the Wildlings, no easy task.

It was interesting to see his efforts to integrate the Wildings with the Night’s Watch, who has been in desperate need of reinforcements for years now. As his brothers protest, I particularly liked his line where he cites the vow saying how they must protect men. “And what are the wildlings if not men?”

Over time in the book, you start to see that the Wildlings are actually better men than these “honorable” sworn brothers in black. They’re generally friendly, loyal and brave, whereas the Night’s Watch is made up of rapists, thieves and criminals for the most part. They are the worst of Westeros sent to do perhaps the most important job in the realm. With all the good ones like Lord Mormont, Halfhand and Donal Noye dead, Snow is stuck with a rag tag assortment of cowards and schemers, and it ultimately leads to his downfall.

Martin does not like happy endings, and it should have been a clear sign that something was about to go wrong when I felt elated after Snow’s rousing speech about how he was going to march south to kill Ramsay Bolton in a bastard vs. bastard brawl.

And then they killed him. Probably. Possibly.


The last we see of Jon, he’s being stabbed by his own brothers claiming they’re doing it “for the Watch.” I guess between his aide to Stannis, recruitment of the Wildlings and promise to leave the wall to fight Ramsay he broke about every rule you could in his position, but still, I was astonished at the betrayal. When people told me that NO ONE is safe from Martin and he will kill characters you love, I figured that eventually Arya, Tyrion or Jon would die in the books, but after Robb met his end in Storm of Swords, I thought perhaps the others were safe as that was the death everyone was referring to.

I guess not.

But is Jon really dead? I’m not sure I believe it. Martin has a penchant for acting like he kills characters and bringing them back. He did it with Catelyn, he did it with the Onion Knight, he did it with Beric Dondarrion six times and he could do it with Jon. Yes, by the time we leave him he’s slipping into unconsciousness with four stab wounds in him, but I’m not convinced he’s dead. If I had to guess, I’d say his Wildling friends swooped in to save him, and he’ll be injured, but alive. Or perhaps Melisandre can bring him back with Dondarrion-esque Lord of Light powers.

Why do I think this is the case? It’s not just because I refuse to believe Martin would kill possibly the best character in the books (other than Tyrion, of course), it’s that we still have the central mystery of who Jon Snow’s parents are that hasn’t yet been solved. And what WOULD be the point of solving it after he’s completely dead? I think he’ll survive, but we’re going to have to wait a while to find out if that’s the case.

Alright, time to move a bit faster or this article will be as long as one of Martin’s books by the end. As mentioned, the Onion Knight did not indeed die as proclaimed in A Feast for Crows. I thought it was odd to kill him offscreen, but it turns out it was all a ruse by Lord Manderly. That scenario has Manderly being secretly loyal to Stannis while Karstark is secretly loyal to Bolton, resulting in the clusterfuck that was the siege of Winterfell that is left unclear by the end.

We saw both sides camping out in the snow for weeks, but never saw an actual battle, yet there apparently was one. Ramsay Bolton’s letter indicated that he had smashed through Stannis and won the battle. He says that Reek (Theon) escaped with his bride (fake Arya), so I’m not sure how that happened because they were with Stannis. And unless I misread, Stannis himself isn’t specifically mentioned as dead, only his men. I suppose what really happened at/outside Winterfell is supposed to be a lingering mystery.


Theon’s character was incredibly well written in this book after being absent for two full novels. Martin painted a harrowing picture of a completely broken man, one that refuses to even remember his own name or his old life. Similarly, he’s made Ramsay Bolton the most evil villain in the series to date, even moreso than Joffrey. As the book says, Joffrey was cruel but stupid, and Ramsay is cruel and smart.

Theon eventually regains some fragments of himself near the end, at least enough to escape with Jeyne Poole, the fake Arya, and somehow avoid capture after Stannis is (supposedly) defeated. Where are they now? With his sister? I have no idea.

I don’t like how Martin sometimes just makes characters disappear completely for seemingly endless amounts of time. That happened with Davos after he spoke with Maderly, he simply ceased to exist in the story. And the same happened with Bran as well. Once he meets the Children of the Forrest and the Greenseer, he simply stops existing in the second half of the novel. I really do not understand where his storyline is going if the most relevant thing he does now is have his face pop up in trees occasionally.

Outside of the North, the other major storyline is in the East this time which involves a Dornish prince, Tyrion, Daenerys, and another lost Targaryen.

It was quite a shock to learn that Aegon Targaryen was in fact still alive after reportedly being murdered as an infant. It means he has the strongest claim to the throne out of anyone, even moreso than Daenerys, who is busy with her own problems. Rather than attempt to wade into a war to woo her, Aegon now lands in Westeros and starts trying to win the country without her or her dragons.

The Khaleesi’s other suitors don’t give up quite as easily. She has so many in this book, it’s hard to keep track. Everyone wants to wed the mother of Dragons, and acquire the power that comes with the union. There’s the Dornish prince who we follow for a long time (too long if you ask me) and he’s eventually roasted by her dragons in a misguided attempt to win her favor. To me, his was the story that felt the most like wasted pages.


There’s also Victarion Greyjoy who is sent to get the queen for Euron, his brother, but thinks he’s going to take her for himself. Last we see of him, he’s close by, but doesn’t lay siege to any of the cities or anything yet.

And then there are the two that get closest to her, Hizdar and Daario. Daario is the sellsword she loves (well, lusts, at least), while Hizdar she must marry to keep the peace in her city. It’s never explicitly revealed if he’s treacherous or not, but it’s heavily implied that’s the case. During a gladiator fight to celebrate her wedding to him, Drogon the dragon swoops in and eats people and then Daenerys rides him out into the Dothraki Sea. In her absence, it’s up to Barristan Selmy to take control of things and keep her king in check, and I loved when the book shifted to his point of view. He’s a really good character, and I hope we see a lot more of him.

Tyrion’s story was perhaps the oddest of the bunch this time around, as he’s passed from sellsword to slave owner to eventually being paired up with another dwarf, a teenager named Penny, and forced to be in a folly where he jousts riding a pig. He’s more of an observer than anything this time around, and through his eyes we got to meet Aegon Targeryen, Jon Connington and reunite with battered and broken Jorah Mormont. Now he’s signed up with a sellsword brigade after fleeing slavery, and I’m not sure what his next move will be. I didn’t mind his story, but I did wish he was a little more intimately involved with the major plot developments in the book. The same goes for Varys, but I suppose he had disappeared for so long to be able to pop up as a surprise in the epilogue, killing Kevan Lannister and Grandmaster Pycelle “for the realm.” A cool scene, but it’s hard to imagine Game of Thrones without Varys for so long.

It was odd to finally switch back to Jaime and Cersei and Arya near the end of the book, and I really hope that Martin ceases and desists with this need to split all the characters up in future stories.

Jaime goes off with Brienne where he’s promised to find Sansa Stark, but will find Catelyn Stoneheart waiting for him instead. Arya trains to be a Faceless assassin in Braavos, and though it’s a cool profession, it’s not the most riveting of storylines.


I thought Cersei had one of the most impactful moments of the book, the one where she’s stripped naked and paraded through the streets of Kings Landing before her trial, starting at the spot where Ned Stark was beheaded. That scene was fantastic, as the great queen is stripped of everything from her clothing to her honor and mocked and jeered mercilessly, possibly facing certain death. I can’t imagine how that’s going to play out on the show a long while for now. Lena Heady would have to be extremely brave if they’re going to remain faithful to the book there.

I liked this book, I really did. When you miss meals and lose sleep because you can’t put something down, you know it’s done its job, and while Crow was a chore to get through, Dragons was the opposite. I think Martin made a mistake splitting the two books the way he did, and hopefully he can learn from it, but I can’t wait to see where he’s going to take us next.

Now that I’ve finished all five books, this leads me to the ultimate question that so many people have asked me since I started reading. If I love the show, is it worth it to read ahead in the books?

It’s hard to say.

The books are amazing, don’t get me wrong. I love this universe, and it’s probably the most invested I’ve been in a fictional world since Star Wars. Martin’s rich history of Westeros is something you only get a glimpse of on the show, and if you want to get the true scope of what he’s created, the books are a must read.

That said, it used to be that I was practically bouncing up and down in my seat when the Game of Thrones theme started playing every Sunday night. I was SO excited to see what the hell would happen next in this show which so far has had more unexpected twists and turns than I can count. But now? It’s still good, obviously, but it’s different. The excitement isn’t as intense, and now the question isn’t “what’s going to happen??” it’s “how are they going to handle this?” or “what will they change?” Those kinds of questions aren’t nearly as fun.

But it’s hard to say which is MORE impactful. Reading through the Red Wedding on my Kindle, or watching it actually play out onscreen. I was frozen in horror reading it in the book, but would it have been even more intense on the show? I can’t say.


There’s some comfort in knowing what’s going to happen, as you free yourself completely from spoilers. For someone like me who lives on the internet, I was simply unable to avoid them and that was a main reason I sat down and read the books. But it wasn’t the only one.

Rather, it’s  nice to simply read a part of literary history. In my opinion, Martin is better than Tolkein, and certainly more accessible at the very least. These are fantastic books and everyone should read them at one point or another.

But this isn’t as easy as saying that yes, clearly the Harry Potter books are more enjoyable than the movies or yes, you’ll probably like The Lord of the Rings movies better than the books. It’s honestly hard to say one way or the other.

If being surprised is your favorite part of the show, I say save the books for later, or simply read the ones attached to seasons that have already aired. If the universe itself is what you love, and you want more of it and can’t wait four years for the show to catch up to the books, then by all means, read them.

As for me, being surprised WAS my favorite part of the show, but even still, I can’t say I regret my decision to read the books. As an aspiring author myself, Martin has much to teach me and I love being able to browse the internet free from the plague of spoilers. But I do miss that extra twinge of excitement each week not knowing what’s about to happen.

That’s all for book by book discussion, but look for a post next week about the lingering mysteries of the series that I didn’t get to discuss here today.


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  1. My opinion of Daenerys improved by the end of this book – hopefully she’s turned away from the pampered, peacekeeping princess she gradually became and back to the horse-heart eating fiery dragon badass we know and love.

    We’ve already seen Lena Headey nude in 300, so I’m hoping they stay faithful to the book once we get to that depiction of how the mighty have fallen. It’s not a matter of seeing more t&a, it’s demonstrating the stark contrast between her power-hungry ambitions and where she actually ranks. And she’s still plotting at the end of it, so who knows what comes next.

    And yes, I’m waiting eagerly for the Red Wedding, just to see how they play it. It’s always fun to get texts from friends who haven’t read the books saying “Did that just happen?!”

  2. Agree about Jon Snow. His character is way to important to die, when really, while his storyline is great, he actually hasn’t accomplished THAT much when you think about it. He hasn’t left the wall really. His destiny, in my mind, is and will be leading an army into battle to retake the North and become King of the North, assuming he really isn’t dead.

    If he does die, I’m not sure what old George is going to do. The original cast of characters are so few and far between, especially on the side of the North. While many of the other characters are cool, I really think Jon Snow is the person most people resonate with (assuming anyone can resonate with a bastard son of a king in what seems to be middle ages)

    Tyrion is great, but his character is so far out there.

  3. John Snow’s actions were stupid. If memory serves, he told the senior members of the Night’s Watch what he wanted to do, but made no effort to convince them WHY it needed to be done.

    If he’d taken the time to sit them all down and say “Hey, I know people have come to think that the wall is there to keep out wildlings, but that’s not the reason it was built. That reason is back, and humans need to stick together”, then maybe they would have understood and not turned on him.

  4. Eh, If only Game had had seasons in a half a year interval then reading ahead wouldn’t be much of a problem but watching only ten episodes, then the knowledge that there is muuuuch more to happen and the next “mere ten episodes” are to be aired in next whole freakin’ year is just too much to bare with.

    If you are not a complete ignorant, If you are actually interested in topics like “Thrones” then there is literally no chance to avoid reading books and that’s the biggest and one of the few flaws of the show, it makes viewers far too hungry for more and then is taking far to long to bring it on.

    I won’t even start on child actors, at the end of “Dance” Arya is still, well, almost teenager, Tommen and Rickon just young child, Bran…, well some interesting changes are ahead of us…

  5. i couldn’t say how many people have said this before me, so i’ll just say it anyway. one person that still has not been mentioned much in the books since at least book 2 in John Snows uncle Benjen Stark. Hes mentioned a couple times though nothing has been found out what ever happened to or with him.

    To the best we know he either died when he went out on the ranging in book one, came back as a white walker/cold one and is roaming the land above the wall or that he is still alive and off somewhere like land after north of the wall.

    my guess is that cold hands or one of mance rayder or his people might know something and on one has asked them anything about benjen yet and he’ll turn back up with his own chapters in books 6 and or 7. take over as lord commander of the nights watch or be able to leave the nights watch and become lord of winterfell/king of the north with rikkion or bran becoming his heirs till they are of age.

  6. Spoilers obviously.

    Have you ever had one of those “this is not happening” moments? For instance, you’re driving on an icy road and suddenly your car starts sliding, you can see the ditch or another car you might crash into and your mind says “this is not happening.” That happened to me during the red wedding. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    Honestly, I think Martin is losing control of the story a bit. First of all, at his glacial pace of writing, how is he ever going to finish this story before the tv series catches up? Second, how is he going to finish the story in only 2 books? Am I the only one who felt like Sam had about 200 too many pages about this ship journey to be a maester? And Arya… at this rate it will take 2 more books just to graduate from assassin elementary. Is there a point where she finishes and goes on to do something with these skills? Perhaps start working on that list she’s made? But her and Sam will surely have some wacky adventures together which will take at least 1 book. How is she ever going to make it back to Westeros in just 2 books? I love the rich world Martin has created, but some of this stuff could easily be cut without being missed.

    I think Martin has reached the point in his story where he’s going to start pulling some deus ex machina plot devices to bring it all together. Right now his story is so spread out with so many threads that I don’t see how he can pull them all back together into a cohesive plot without taking some shortcuts. For example, I think Dany is going to have to wake up from a dream that says “you need to get off your butt and go to Westeros.” At the rate she is moving now, there are at least 5 more books worth of city state governing between her and Pentos where she might start doing something relevant to the other 90% of the book series.

  7. I kind of feel like Jon has to live, because it’s called “A Song of Ice (Jon) and Fire (Daenerys)”. Jon is probably Lyanna and Robert’s son (if not Rhaegar’s) and him and Dany will get together and be kickass.

    (I say Robert’s only because he has black hair, and every other Stark is brown/red, while Targaryens are blonde.)

  8. I remember one of Mel’s prophecies include Jon becoming a wolf then a man again and if Ghost isn’t called Ghost to hold Jon’s spirit then I’ll be disappointed. The point of the prologue with Varymar Sixskins was to show that you can live on in your worg kin but I’ve noticed if you behead someone in that book and you’re a Stark, it’ll lead to your death.

    Personally hated Dany’s side, spent too much time in Meereen and it’s getting dull, skipped most of the eastern section of the contient during my second re-read plus Paul, there’s one or two sample chapters from the next book on Martin’s website.

  9. I would think Jon would live from a practicality standpoint alone, he is the only POV character left at the wall. Also I remember reading an interview a while back where Martin said he wasn’t adding any new POV characters. This can also through Jon into the “prince that was promised” prophecy, as being reborn amidst smoke and salt correlates to the steam from his wounds and the tears on…..Bowen Marsh’s(?) face. And I full heartedly believe he is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son. Howland Reed is the only one that knows the truth most likely.

    Theon’s character arc in this book had me floored. I love how the book gave you a few chapters to figure out who he was before they made if obvious.

    Aegon being alive after all is a game changer, but I kinda wish it didn’t happen so late in the series.

    I found most of Dany’s storyline, and Tyrion’s for that matter, boring and cumbersome at the same time. It picked up when the dragons were released and Drogon returned though, that was awesome. And Selmy’s sections were fantastic. I’d read a whole book from his point of view.

  10. I think Jon will live by warging into Ghost, then brought back some way by Melissandre. Something that of course will come at a cost.

    I don’t know if you noticed, but there were three Freys missing on the way from White Harbour and Winterfell, and in a scene at the wedding Lord Manderly brings three great pies while he requests a song from Abel (Mance) that is about a cook who kills a prince and bakes him into a pie and then serves to the king. That was awesome/subtle.

    Another great scene, Barristan (beeing old) defeating the champion of the gladiators fight.

  11. Also, I don’t think Aegon is trully the Targaryen heir. He could be just a child with Valyrian features (wich we know there are quite some in Essos, maybe Illyrio’s son) raised to believe (by Varys and Illyrio) he really is Aegon, all “for the realm”.

  12. Jon is not dead. The opening is about how a skinchanger is trying to jump bodies to stay alive and was put in there for a purpose. John will jump into Ghost, the Red Priestess will heal his body like was done for others in series and then Jon will jump back in.

    There is simple reason why Jon has to “die” at this point in the story. By dying he has fulfilled his obligation to the Watch. One of Robb’s last acts was to make Jon a true Stark (over Cat’s protest) so now he is the true heir of Winterfell.

    Jon is going to head there and kick Ramsey’s ass. After that he will work to help stop the Walkers. During that time Daenerys will return and quickly take over the south with her large army and full grown dragons. Jon will come to her for aid against the undead and together they will save the realm.

    Just my opinion on where the story is headed.

  13. It’s quite possible that Jon’s “Death” is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Azhor ahai — Something I think that is a bigger thing in the book than people realize (I could be wrong of course, as it hinges on something else that also has yet to be confirmed or refuted.)

    For those who have read the tales of Dunk and Egg I also believe there is a slight nod in ADWD that indicates that Brienne may in fact be a descendant of Dunk.

    (Spoilers for those who haven’t read the books)

  14. And now the rage will slowly set in as you wait for Martin to send out the next book.


    I’m seriously afraid I’m going to forget where ADWD left off by the time The Winds of Winter comes out. Martin better than Tolkien? How about we explore that notion if people are still as obsessed with Ice and Fire as ringers are with LOTR in half a century? I’m not counting on it. Tolkien has Led Zeppelin and Rush on his side. Plus, Tolkien literally invented the entire genre as we know it. There’s no getting around that or the fact that LOTR garnered the attention it did in it’s day without the aid of movies or television.

    Still, Martin deserves all possible props for reinventing a literary genre that has not been known for its creativity. Given the slowdown of the story in the last two books, the last two are going to need to knock it out of the park if he wants to rival the OG of fantasy literature. But it could happen.

  15. Funny, I didn’t even consider that Jon might be dead for good. I just assumed that Melissandre, now that she thinks he is Azhor reborn, would bring him back.

    I definitely thought this book was a lot better than Feast. The only thing that I didn’t like was Aegon returning. To me, it was just far too late in the story to throw that big of a curveball. We are reading about characters that we have grown to care about, and now in comes this major gamechanging character. Not a fan.

  16. It will take a lot for Martin to reach Tolkien. I think because with the prominence of TV, books like what Tolkien wrote just aren’t being written and read anymore.

    If you are a talented writer, you probably go to movies or do best selling memoirs, not fantasy fiction that has a one in a billion chance of getting read and picked up for a show.

    Go to a bookstore (if you can find one) and go to the fantasy section, it’s littered with all sorts of crap no one has ever heard of. Just a bunch of people trying to be the next tolkien.

  17. Paul, now that you’ve read about Jon getting “killed”, read about the theories of how Jon is actually Azor Ahai and not Dany like we’ve been lead to believe. So fun.

  18. I loved Dany in book one and progressively became annoyed with her arrogant, entitled, obviously mentality. When she wonders if her new husband may have tried to poison her and wonders why, I just wanted to throw the book across the room. I hated the fact she didn’t understand people weren’t going to just open the doors and let her rule whatever. I was glad when she decides to get her shit together and meets up with her old blood rider.

    Although, Quentyn’s chapers dragged and reached their obvious conclusion, it’s important because now that’s Dorne’s a major player they’re not going to be happen he not only failed to secure Dany, but, was murdered. I can’t wait for their reaction.

    GRRM has released two POV chapters for the next books. If you’re curious about what happened to Theon, you should read it.

  19. A rule of Game of Thrones is that a character only dies in the books if it happens ‘on screen’ (if you know what i mean) the words never fully said Jon died, so anything that happened at Winterfell could be Ramsay lying his dick off

  20. I’ll second the recommendation of the three Dunk and Egg stories. Besides being good in their own right, they provide insight into ADWD plotlines (Bran and possibly Aegon).

  21. Hi,
    I like your reviews for Game of Thrones, I’ve been reading since the first season.

    Just wanted to mention that Bran might not been on screen in the second part of the last book but his presence is felt – when Theon is in the weirwoods the tree whisper his name, and there was something about Jon and crows, I think there were other instances but I have forgotten them now, I read the books long ago.

  22. I love both. The books are amazing in the detail and care put into them, but the shows do a great job of streamlining the sometimes overwhelming setting.
    I would recommend reading the books, mostly because it will be impossible to escape spoilers on the internet for the next few years. Some people have already posted spoilers for season 4, and other people have gotten so sick of spoilers that they deliberately post false information to mislead people so they won’t know what’s happening and will still be surprised.

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