A Dance With Dragons Reviewed

I’ve made this as spoiler-free as possible for the book itself, but it does contain serious spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire books 1-4. If you’ve only seen Game of Thrones on TV or just read the first three books, please to NOT click, lest your mind be blown.

From here on in it’s Spoiler Street, Spoilertown, Spoileros. You have been warned.

Still with me? Excellent! It’s been a week since the book was officially released, and I know you have some questions…

So, are there dragons? Do they dance?
Yes, there are dragons. Dany’s “children,” Viserion, Rhaegal, and Drogon, are all growed up and have developed a taste for mutton… and other meats. Sadly they don’t break out into a polka, but they’re definitely more lively – and harder to control – than they used to be.

Ugh, disappointing. So what else is going on?
In Westeros, the action is concentrated on the Wall and in the North generally, at Winterfell and White Harbour, as the ripples of the Red Wedding continue to spread (and there are more weddings to add to those ripples). The Night’s Watch are still struggling with the defence of the Wall – and who they should defend behind it – while trying not to be drawn into Stannis’ war for the Iron Throne. As one review puts it:

Westeros is in chaos; it’s a political jigsaw puzzle, and somebody just turned the table over, and everybody is on the floor scrabbling for pieces.

The Martells and Sand Snakes in Dorne appear again after their in-depth treatment in A Feast for Crows, and we start to learn just how long a game the Prince has been playing. Swot up on your Eastern cities, too: the east isn’t much better, with the cities around Slaver’s Bay – Astapor, Yunkai, Dany’s “free” Meereen, and others – struggling for gold, slaves, and sellsword companies. I would recommend reading A Feast for Crows again, or at least a detailed summary, before diving into this book. I also really, really wanted a map.

Close up of a Kindle downloading the book
Warning: does not contain a map

What about [insert my favourite character here]?
Most of us will be pleased to hear that Dany, Jon, and Tyrion are all back in the game – and two of the three are even on the same continent again. Other storylines involve Arya Stark; Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds; Jaime and Brienne; Davos and Stannis; Theon and the Boltons; Asha Greyjoy; the Martells in Dorne; and Victarion Greyjoy. We even get a little insight into the mind of Melisandre. There are more, but I don’t want to go too far into Spoilertown today.

Wait, what about all the people in King’s Landing?
We get a brief epilogue to bring us up-to-date on Cersei and Kevan. And Varys, of course, dear Varys. Tommen, Lancel, Margaery, and others are mentioned but not “seen” again yet. We also get another wee look at Sam – but from the beginning, so it’s the storyline we know already; it’s just through Jon’s eyes.

Do we finally find out who Jon’s parents really are?
No, though there are even more vague hints. The top fan contenders are a near-certainty, in my humble opinion, though you never know what GRRM has up his dastardly sleeve.

How many major characters are killed off?
It’s hard to be sure right now… at least three. But it had better be at least one less than ending implies or I will be very annoyed (and may cry). Aemon died in A Feast for Crows, but yet another Targaryen emerges from the depths to either ally with or fight Dany for the Iron Throne, which is seeming very distant to her in her pyramid in Meereen. It seems that just as there is no character GRRM won’t kill off, there’s also none he won’t conveniently raise from the dead to complicate the lives of his characters (see also: Catelyn Stark). Don’t worry, though, at least Ned really is good and dead.

Does it end on a cliffhanger?
Of course – it’s George R. R. Martin, after all. At least three, if I remember correctly.

Does this book have any impact on the TV series so far?

Um, yes, it might. There is one minor character from the first few books, in particular, that plays a very big role in this book and hasn’t been introduced yet in the TV series. They do still have time to write that character in, though.

So, how do you feel about the book?
Although I saw lots of buzz online about how people were staying up all night to finish it, I tried reading it slowly to stretch it out and savour it. This book has been five years in the making, so who knows when the next one will emerge? There were some brilliant moments and some times when I felt like cheering; but equally, I got really sick of both Dany’s and Jon’s saviour complexes. Jon, in particular, makes some choices that seem almost as stupid as Ned Stark’s.

I’m not sure how I feel about the growing presence of magic: it’s obviously something that’s been building throughout the series, but this book in particular makes it very clear that the supernatural, whether religious or magical, is real. On the one hand, this is awesome – flying dragons! Verifiable visions of the future! “Borrowing”! – but on the other, I dislike the implication that what will happen is, to a certain extent, out of human hands somehow. There is  particular emphasis on the powers of the acolytes of R’hllor in comparison to the other religions.  On the other other hand, any supernatural powers are still in the hands of real human people – Dany’s dragons; Melisandre’s visions; and Bran’s shapeshifting.

Also, with only two books left to go, I at times got very impatient with how slowly the story seems to be moving. Everyone is mired in political intrigue and is finding it very difficult to get out and work toward their goals – and many of the characters don’t even know what their goals really are anymore. The main themes of the series – that war is wasteful and brutalising; politics are endless; information is precious; and people are complicated little bastards – are there in force.

Special shout-outs to…

  • Theon Greyjoy ““ seriously, I hate that guy (can you blame me?), but the Boltons end up bringing him back to Winterfell, which does strange things to his mind.
  • Val the wildling ““ for being generally awesome and kickass. She and Jon should totally get together and have fierce snowbabies, but Jon swore that oath and all… Val/Jon 4 Eva!!
  • Barristan Selmy ““ he likes to reminisce, and when he does, insight and information flow.
  • Arya Stark ““ for breaking my heart and brutalising herself, but still being the Arya we love underneath. Far, far underneath.
  • All the creatures of the North ““ the Children of the forest; wargs; and giants called Wun Wun (sounds suspiciously like “˜Won Won’ to me, but maybe I just have Harry Potter on the brain).
  • Copious use of the phrase “as useful as nipples on a breastplate”.

I’m shrivelling up from dying to talk with anyone and everyone about this book, so please join me in the comments! But if you’re specifically talking about events in A Dance with Dragons, preface your comment with ***ADWD SPOILER*** or similar, so those who haven’t got their sweaty paws on it yet can avoid it. Thanking you!

(And thanks to Nanna for the Q&A format idea!)

36 replies on “A Dance With Dragons Reviewed”

Spoilers galore!!

Is Aegon for real, or is he the ‘mummer’s dragon’ we keep hearing about? Discuss.

I’ll start: I think he’s fake. We hear from Barristan’s POV that Ashara Dayne had a baby who died, then she killed herself. We also know that Ashara Dayne looked a lot like a Targaryen. What if Aegon is really her kid?


As far as I can work out, there are three interpretations of “mummer’s dragon”

“mummer’s dragon” meaning a fake dragon
“mummer’s dragon” meaning a puppet dragon (not quite the same thing – real but not in control)
“mummer’s dragon” meaning Varys’s dragon (could be real or fake).

***ADWD Spoiler***

My question is, would Connington have done everything he did for him, for so long, if he thought or knew Aegon was a fake? I don’t think so, so Connington at least believes he’s the real deal. Will have to re-read ADWD for the details on how Aegon survived, and who’s telling us.

Either way, will the Prince of Dorne marry his daughter to Aegon instead (after the Viserys and then Dany attempts didn’t work out?


I think it’s clear from Connington’s POV that he believes Aegon to be totally the real deal. In fact I bet that all of his people, including Septa Lemore (who is possibly the mother of one of the Sand Snakes?), think he’s the real deal. He probably thinks so too. I’m just wondering if all this mummer’s dragon stuff means he’s a fake, set up by Varys in case the Viserys/Dany situation didn’t work out, either in case they died or turned out to be a little too much like their father.

Having said that, we keep hearing that the ‘dragon has three heads’, which would suggest there are three Targs hanging around somewhere. If Dany is one, and L + R = J, there’s still need for one more.

It’s an interesting twist, at any rate. Is he a potential ally for Dany or a potential rival?

Ahoy, here be REALLY BIG spoilers!!!

Is anyone else starting to feel like the Major Character Death situation is getting a little cheap because we’ve been faked out so many times? Ned’s death, while shocking for the tv show, can in some ways be seen as the most ‘traditional’ or predictable bit of storytelling that GRRM does. Ned is Obi-wan Kenobi, or Mufasa, or Lily and James Potter; he has to die for the protagonists (his kids) to go on their heroes’ journeys. Meanwhile, with the exception of Robb, the VAST majority of the other Shocking Deaths have been fakeouts, or deaths for people we hate, or Zombie Caitlin/FrankenGregor. Add to that the Aegon reveal and I’m starting to feel like no one ever actually dies in these books, which really reduces the impact of these cliffhangers!

***so many spoilers***

Ok, categorisation mind: engage!

Real deaths: Ned, Robert, Robb, Lady the direwolf, the three in ADWD (I’m pretty sure), Sandor?, Tywin, Balon Greyjoy?, the Red Viper?
Fake deaths: Beric Dondarrion, Catelyn, Gregor (unless this Strong man is actually Sandor), Aegon, Bran and Rickon (except we never think they’re dead for more than a few chapters)
Unknown: every other person who dies…or do they… dun dun DUN.

I agree with you. I hated when he raised Catelyn. Effing priests of R’hllor. But on the other hand I’m glad because I don’t believe that extra person in ADWD is really dead.

A few more short-term fakeouts: Davos (we’re told he’s dead in AFFC), Tyrion at the end of one of his ADWD chapters, Mance, Brienne. I’m getting tired of it. I think the two epilogue deaths from ADWD will stick, but other than that, I just don’t believe GRRM anymore!


Also, I count as “fake-outs” the chapters that end with the character’s life in expectedly mortal peril from which they somehow escape – Arya (Sandor’s axe in the back of her head), Davos again (Blackwater Bay), Theon (burning horse during the sack of Winterfell), Asha (fleeing from Deepwood Motte).


Which character are you referring to that plays a major role in ADWD but hasn’t yet appeared in the GoT series? I haven’t had a chance to see the first season yet, so I’m curious.

I was oddly disappointed with how stagnant Tyrion and Dany’s storylines felt… I guess no number of chapters is ever enough for me when it comes to those two characters. I was quivering with anticipation through the entire book, waiting for them to finally meet – god, what a meeting that would be – and… nothin’. Oh, George.

I think this book pretty much cements the need for Doran Martell and/or a Sand Snake as a POV character in the next book. All the characters in Dorne are awesome. I was sad to see Quentyn Martell go, and just in the chapter where I’d started to really like him.

Lastly, BARRISTAN SELMY 4 LYFE! His chapters were the best! And how tragic was it that he had loved Ashara Dayne? There is something so noble and Ivanhoe-esque about Barristan that just gets me. He really is the epitome of a chivalrous knight.

***ADWD spoiler***
The fake Arya, Jeyne Poole. The TV series could replace her with another character, but in the books it’s important that Theon recognises her…and I’m betting Ros is too old:)

Stagnant, thank you! I was like “Seriously Dany, get the eff out of Meereen” – Tyrion is more at the mercy of other people currently. But he was so close! Just outside the city! Rarrgghh….
Yeah I’d love to get into a Sand Snake’s head! Maybe the one who’s going to go to King’s Landing with Myrcella?

Barristan is old-school. I don’t know if there’s anyone even close to him, except maybe Davos Seaworth.


That’s bizarre, the lack of Jeyne Poole… unless it’s completely intentional on the part of the showrunners. I’ve actually been wondering since the show’s inception how it was going to pull off all of the undercover identity stuff from the books. If they cast an actress as Jeyne and showed her around Winterfell and King’s Landing during the first season, it would kind of ruin the shock of her reveal as the fake Arya. So maybe they won’t even cast Jeyne until the first appearance of fake Arya, so everyone in the audience will be like, “Okay… who’s the fake Arya?” Then in the fifth/ADWD season, when Theon recognizes her, it can cut to…


THEON watches amusedly as ROBB and JON spar around the courtyard. He hears the giggling of two young girls behind him. He turns and sees SANSA and her friend JEYNE POOLE.

So then the audience will get the same cool realization that we did while reading the books – “Ohhh, she’s Sansa’s friend from Winterfell, wow!”

I know they’ve cast an actor as Barristan Selmy and had him appear in the first season and all, but I was kind of hoping they’d do that kind of BIG REVEAL for him as Arstan Whitebeard. As in, not have Barristan actually appear in the first season at all – just have everyone talk about him and how legendary he is. Like someone at King’s Landing saying, “Wow, did you hear about Barristan Selmy? Joffrey dismissed him as the Captain of the Kingsguard, so he threw down his cloak and insulted the entire royal family by saying he was going to go serve the TRUE king! Then Joffrey sent some chump guards to go assassinate him on his way out of the castle, but Barristan slew them without even breaking a sweat! What a badass!” And then emphasize Robb and Stannis talking about him too, like “Barristan Selmy, the great knight, says he’s gone to find and serve the true king. Let us hope he’ll show up here soon!” This way the audience will be thinking throughout the first few seasons, “Who’s this awesome Barristan guy? I hope he shows up eventually.” And then BAM, Dany’s loyal knight Arstan Whitebeard finally proclaims that HE is Barristan Selmy. It would be such an awesome reveal!

I may have thought about this too much.

***ADWD Spoilers***

I felt just the same way about both Dany and Tyrion, and also Jon (until the end, gulp, though there’s no way I believe that it’s really the end for him). I found myself skipping through Dany’s chapters, which I never did before, because the Meereen stuff was so tedious right up until the end, and I felt like she had gone from this awesome ass-kicking character to making an astounding number of bad or questionable decisions. It’s like she’s totally not interested in Westeros at all. And I got really bored with all the damn mercenary companies. Similarly, Jon seemed to have lost all his brain power. When the scary lady says multiple times to keep your direwolf close by, keep your damn direwolf close by!

As it happens, the POVs I enjoyed the most this time were the ones we didn’t get much of (Bran, Arya and Davos).

Second the Barristan Selmy and Val love. Val is the BEST. I want her POV! It could just be Val walking around being like, fuck all y’all, I’m totally badass.

s’ok, I wielded the magical edit button.

Yes, sweet Jesus, either he believes in her powers or he doesn’t. RAARGH.
Likewise, couldn’t give a shit about Brown Ben or the rest of them, except possibly as they related to Tyrion.



I really found myself hating GRRM sometimes. Btw I LOVE that finally we get to see the CotF.

You know, skinchangers can go into their animals when they die. Where is Ghost? I think also Rickon is probably 100% feral by now.

It is becoming more evident that the Starks are skinchangers in general – Arya even goes into a cat that she knows. Jon keeps fighting it.

I just remembered again. Jon, you were stupid as hell.

Good point – which would be the point of having the prologue with the skinchanger.
Jon keeps fighting it, stupid Jon, I’d almost believe he was Ned’s son after all. No indication of it with Sansa at all though, am I wrong?

Well, I am firm that at the VERY least, L + ___ = J. R very likely, but I heard proposed A, and that could work too.

It wasn’t just the Reek chapters, though they take the lion’s share of the blame. The whole book felt like pain upon pain upon pain, with precious little of GRRM’s trademark wit to lighten things up. And the inclusion of the red herring = great, who else that we desperately love is going to die now for this shit not to mention OH I WAITED 5 YEARS FOR THIS??


Wait, who do L/R/A signify? Is the idea that Jon is not actually Ned’s son? Because the earlier books emphasize his ressemblance to Ned, so now I’m confused!

Also if Jon is dead Ima sulk for ever. I was already pretty pissed that Robb died. And that Catelyn rose from the dead.


R= Rhaegar
L = Lyanna
J = Jon

Someone once brought up that Aerys , known for his raping ways, might have been responsible for getting Lyanna with child. In GoT Ned says that “Wylla” was Jon’s mother…in ADWD we find out that Wylla is actually Jon’s wetnurse, not his mom. And then there is the mysterious “promise” that Lyanna made Ned make which is ultra secret. We know that Rhaegar was infatuated with Lyanna, Ned prayed to the Old Gods to make Robb and Jon be “like brothers” – but, aren’t they brothers? etc etc.


Agreed. While I really had to struggle through the POVs that I usually love (Jon, Dany and to some extent Tyrion in the book’s second half), I found the Reek/Theon chapters to be incredibly compelling. Terrifying and nightmare-inducing and seriously squicky, but thrilling in a way that the endless Meereenese court scenes just weren’t at all.

I just finished the book, and actually the worst of the Reek chapters were in the beginning. Once he gains himself back I really, really enjoyed his story.

The most horrible disappointment was how idiotic Dany behaves, how Tyrion never gets anywhere or does anything useful, and basically how little happens. This book easily could have been halved. And I (SPOILER!!!) can’t get over how incredibly stupid it is to bring out Aegon from fuck-all-nowhere.

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