George R. R. Martin

A Dance With Dragons

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A Dance With Dragons Summary

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A Dance with Dragons forms the fifth novel in the Song of Ice and Fire saga by George R. R. Martin, in which five contenders battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros. This novel overlaps in time with the fourth novel, A Feast for Crows, which depicts the winding down of the War of the Five Kings. A Dance with Dragons is told from the points of view of 18 characters, following the tradition established from the beginning of the series that each chapter tells the story from the point of view of a different character.

At the beginning of A Dance with Dragons, Stannis Baratheon has taken his army, his wife and daughter, and the Red Woman—the Lady Melisandre—to the Wall, where John Snow has been elected the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Meanwhile in King’s Landing, King Tommen Baratheon, Joffrey’s eight-year-old brother, rules alongside his mother, Cersei Lannister. Jaime Lannister, united with Brienne of Tarth, is on a mission to quell dissent in the Riverlands, as Brienne attempts to fulfill her vow to Catelyn Stark by finding and protecting Sansa Stark. Sansa Stark is hiding at her aunt’s castle in the Vale, pretending to be the ward of Petyr Baelish, who has murdered his wife and Sansa’s aunt, Lysa Arryn, and named himself the Protector of the Vale and guardian of eight-year-old Lord Robert Arryn.

At the Wall, Stannis regroups, encouraged by Jon Snow to make an alliance with the Wildings, whom Jon lets through the wall to save them from the White Walkers and to unite with the Night’s Watch to defend the Wall. The Wall is the only thing standing between Westeros and the mysterious Others, which includes wights—humans who rise from the dead as zombies—and the White Walkers. However, the unbending Stannis executes Mance Rayder, the so-called “king” of the wildings, for refusing allegiance to him. Jon’s alliance with the Wildings, his beheading of his defiant enemy, Janos Slynt, and his request for fighters to join him in killing Ramsay Bolton, who holds Winterfell, cost Jon dearly; he is stabbed and left for dead by his brothers. However, before he is stabbed, Jon sends Mance Rayder’s son to safety with Gilly, Maester Aegon, and Samwell Tarly, who is to train at the Citadel as a Maester. Stannis heads south to engage with the Bolton’s forces, determined to regain the North, followed by wrenching the West from the Ironborn. At the end of the novel, his forces are snowbound outside of Winterfell.

Bran Stark’s visions lead him north of the wall, to encounter the last of the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Crow—an ancient man intertwined with the roots of a weirwood tree. Bran joins with a weirwood tree himself and uses his “green sight” to envision his father, Ned Stark in the past, and to talk with Theon Greyjoy, in the present.

Theon Greyjoy, begging for forgiveness in the Winterfell weirwood, hears Bran’s voice calling his name and regains his sanity. He has previously been tortured into imbecility by Ramsay Bolton, who named him “Reek.” He has also been forced to go along with Ramsay’s marriage to “Arya Stark,” who Reek recognizes as Sansa’s friend, Jayne Poole. Ramsay brutally beats and rapes his wife, and Theon tries to atone for his past sins by helping Jayne escape, only to be immediately captured by Stannis’ forces outside Winterfell.

In Braavos, Arya Stark trains as an assassin in the House of White and Black to become one of the Faceless Men. She passes all of their tests, including fighting off the leader of the temple during a temporary blindness, and successfully murders her first assigned target, a corrupt local merchant. She is accepted as an apprentice to the Faceless Men.

After killing his father, Tywin, Tyrion Lannister is smuggled out of King’s Landing by Varys. Tyrion considers joining forces with Daenerys Targaryen and heads toward the city of Meereen, held by Daenerys and her dragons. However, along the way, Varys reveals that he has secretly been part of a group who has hidden and raised Prince Rheagar’s son, Aegon, who was presumed to have been killed. Tyrion convinces Aegon that Daenerys, as Aegon’s future wife, will only accept him if he has proved himself through conquest. Aegon prepares to launches an attack on Westeros, with the help of the mercenary Golden Company army. Before he can plot any further, Tyrion is kidnapped by Jorah Mormont to be taken to Daenerys. In turn, Tyrion escapes from Mormont in the confusion of a plague overtaking the armies positioned outside Meereen, and makes an alliance with the Second Sons mercenary army to fight on Daenerys’ behalf.

In Meereen, Daenerys faces rebellion at every turn, including from her dragons, whom she cannot control. She is forced to imprison them; however, Drogon, the biggest and strongest, escapes. The Sons of the Harpy, the defeated previous rulers of Meereen, murder her own soldiers at will. Forced to make an alliance to quell the rebellion, she marries Hizdar Zo Loraq—a local lordling. At Hizdar’s insistence, she reopens the fighting pits, but the blood and noise draw Drogon. Drogon kills 200 people before carrying Daenerys off on his back. Drogon leaves Daenerys stranded near the Dothraki Sea. Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorn, sent to make an alliance of marriage with Daenerys, strives to prove himself worthy by riding one of Daenerys’ dragons, but he is killed in the attempt.

At the beginning of the novel, Cersei stands accused of treasonous crimes, including incest and plotting to murder her husband, Robert Baratheon, of which she is guilty. However, she confesses to some of the lesser crimes of which she is accused to escape a real trial. She names a champion to stand for her in trial-by-combat: a hideous monster created from the giant corpse of Ser Gregor Clegane. For her punishment, she is driven, shorn and naked, through the streets of King’s Landing while being pelted with rotten vegetables and insults, completely disgraced and having lost guardianship of her son, King Tommen. During her imprisonment, her uncle, Kevan Lannister, has acted as Tommen’s regent. He and Grand Maester Pycelle have attempted to correct some of the damage Cersei caused during her brief regency. However, both Kevan and Pycelle are murdered by Varys and his allies, who have been plotting all along for the return of the Targaryens.

The overarching theme of this novel remains consistent with the other books in this series: it is easier to conquer a kingdom than to hold it. The strength of the novel lies in its characterization of human nature, and in Martin’s creation of a world that is completely different, but completely recognizable, as a believable, human world. The fantastical elements may include winters that last for decades, dragons, giants, weirwood visions, White Walkers, and forms of blood magic, via the Red Woman, but the elements that drive the plot remain entirely human: lust for power, vengeance, love, and sacrifice for family honor.