A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

by George R. R. Martin
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2179

A Feast for Crows is the fourth novel in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” When the previous novel, A Storm of Swords , ended, Tyrion Lannister killed his father, Tywin. Lord Tywin Lannister had not only been one of the most powerful...

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A Feast for Crows is the fourth novel in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” When the previous novel, A Storm of Swords, ended, Tyrion Lannister killed his father, Tywin. Lord Tywin Lannister had not only been one of the most powerful lords in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros but had also been the “Hand of the King,” the most powerful member of King Tommen’s small council. Since King Tommen is still a boy, Tywin had been the true ruler of the Westeros. Now, his responsibilities fall to his daughter, Cersei Lannister, the Queen Regent of Westeros.

Like her father, Cersei is cunning and manipulative, though she lacks Tywin’s judgment. She is also deeply paranoid of any threat to her rule, not to mention the lives of her children, and she is haunted by a prophecy she was told as a girl: that a younger and more beautiful queen would replace her and take everything she loves. When A Feast for Crows begins, Cersei is awoken in the middle of the night and is told of her father’s death. She walks to the Tower of the Hand and discovers, to her irritation, that she was not even the first person told of the Hand’s murder. She has been preceded by her twin brother, the Lord Commander of the King’s Guard, Jaime.

The court at King’s Landing holds a funeral in Lord Tywin’s honor, one that is ruined by the strong scent of Tywin’s decay. Cersei is furious throughout the funeral. Her son, King Tommen, cries in front of his lords, and Tommen’s betrothed, the beautiful and popularly admired Margaery of House Tyrell, puts on a show of mourning, though Cersei does not believe it. Looking at her father’s corpse, the Queen Regent resolves to rule the realm so that Tywin will be remembered not as a great Hand of the King or even as a great lord, but rather as the father of Queen Cersei.

Cersei sets to work removing her rivals. She allows Margaery to wed Tommen in exchange for sending her father, Mace Tyrell, the Lord of Highgarden, and his armies away to battle the king’s remaining enemies. Only a few castles still defy the Lannisters from the War of the Five Kings—Dragonmount, Storm’s End, and Riverrun—and Tyrell and his armies are tasked with laying siege to the first two. Although Cersei attempts to have her Uncle Kevan become her Hand, he refuses unless she leaves King’s Landing. Cersei rejects these terms, and is pleased to see Kevan leave King’s Landing with his son, Lancel. Cersei is refused again by Jaime, who reminds her of the Kingsguard’s oaths. Cersei is especially infuriated since Jaime actually murdered the first king he had sworn to protect, and since she and Jaime had been lovers. Tommen is in fact Jaime’s son, though his power derives from Cersei’s marriage to the deceased king, Robert Baratheon. Spited, Cersei wastes little time before she burns down the Tower of the Hand and raises minor lords, ones who she feels cannot threaten her, to the King’s “Small Council.” She even sends Jaime into the Riverlands to end the siege of Riverrun. Surrounded by minor lords, Cersei appears to have secured her power. News of Cersei’s deeds soon begins to spread throughout the realm.

The Vale, located in the East of Westeros, has long been ruled by the House of Arryn. Lord Robert Arryn is a sickly child who is small for his age and suffers from the “shaking sickness.” The Vale is actually ruled by Lord Petyr Baelish, or “Littlefinger,” who had married Robert’s mother Lysa before murdering her and blaming it on a singer. Littlefinger also cares for Sansa Stark, the heir to the North, whom he passes off as his “natural” daughter, “Alayne,” ostensibly to protect her. Littlefinger poses as Sansa’s father, but he always asks Sansa to “kiss her father,” complaining about how dutiful her kisses are. Littlefinger had loved Sansa’s mother, and appears to have transferred his feelings to Sansa. He tells Sansa that once he has secured power in the Vale, he will reveal her true identity and ask the lords of the East to win the North for her. Littlefinger may make for a suspect guardian of Robert and Sansa, but in comparison to Cersei, he is a very gifted politician. He quickly quells the lords that defy his rule of the Vale.

The Vale is not the only part of the realm to suffer upheaval. In the deep south of Westeros, the people of Dorne demand vengeance of their lord, Prince Doran. In the previous novel, Doran’s brother, Prince Oberyn, the Red Viper, died in combat defending Tyrion Lannister against Gregor Clegane. Doran suffers from gout, and he hides his weakness by ruling from the Water Gardens rather than at the court at Sunspear. Doran’s daughter, Arianne, runs the court at Sunspear, an important task since Princess Myrcella is staying there. Arianne, however, wants vengeance for Prince Oberyn’s death, and she hatches a scheme to crown Myrcella and invade the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Her plot fails and she is imprisoned. However, when she finally is granted an audience with her father, she learns that Doran does mean to exact vengeance on the Lannisters. He has in fact been conspiring to support the return of Daenerys Targaryen, the rightful Queen of Westeros.

Though Prince Doran finds himself hard-pressed to control Dorne, there is even more unrest among the Ironborn. The Iron Islands have recently lost their self-styled king, Balon. With his son, Theon, presumed dead, his last remaining child is Asha Greyjoy. Asha attempts to claim the Iron Islands for herself, but Balon’s brothers refuse to recognize a woman. Her uncle, Aeron Damphair, a religious zealot of the Drowned God, summons the Ironborn to a “king’s moot,” hoping to raise his older brother Victarion to the throne. However, Euron Crow’s Eye, whom Balon had exiled and who had raided distant lands before his return, wins the throne. He claims to have a horn that can control dragons, which he declares have returned in the far east. He also calls on the Ironborn to plunder Westeros. They begin immediately, taking the outlying castles that protect Westeros’s western shore. To consolidate his power, he sends Victarion away to woo Daenerys Targaryen in his stead.

When news of the Ironborn attacks reaches Margaery in King’s Landing, she immediately goes to court and demands that Cersei respond. Cersei turns the situation to her advantage, reminding Margaery that the realm’s navy is busy laying siege to the rebel armies at Dragonstone and Storm’s End. In Cersei’s eyes, the Ironborn have been attacking castles that actually strengthen Margaery’s house, and therefore weaken the Queen Regent’s rivals. However, Margaery’s brother, Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers, offers to lead the siege. Cersei agrees, hoping that he will die in the attempt. Loras does end the siege, but he suffers grievous wounds in the attack. By the end of the novel, it is not clear whether he will survive.

Cersei has other problems to deal with. Many of the “smallfolk” have begun to travel to King’s Landing in order to join the faith. These “sparrows” support the High Septon, who has not yet blessed Tommen’s rule. Cersei meets with the new High Septon, who agrees to support King Tommen and even to forgive the throne’s considerable debt in exchange for permission to renew the “militant faith.” Word travels, and the sparrows continue to flock to King’s Landing to join the new martial order. Lancel Lannister, whom Cersei has slept with and who assassinated King Robert Baratheon at her order, even abandons his lordship and his father, Ser Kevan, to join the militant faith.

These sparrows come from all over Westeros, but many come from the war-ravaged Riverlands. Jaime witnesses firsthand the anarchy that has come from the War of the Five Kings. There is little food left, and most of the fields have been burned. Many lords have been killed along the way, and a group of bandits led by Lord Beric Dondarrion rob from the rich and hang them. Jaime, who has an army at his back, is safe from attack. When Jaime arrives at Riverrun, he prepares to launch his army at the famous castle, but his true plan is more subtle. Although he is a famous warrior—infamous for his past regicide—now that he has lost his swordhand, Jaime discovers that he is capable of the sort of ruthless tactics that his father, Tywin, was known for. Jaime takes Riverrun without his army’s force by threatening Edmure Tully, the Lord of Riverrun, with the lives of his children, who are in Jaime’s power. Edmure gives in. It is a bloodless solution, but the threat only strengthens Jaime’s reputation as a dishonorable knight.

Brienne, the “warrior maid” of Tarth, is also in the Riverlands, and she needs her sword more than Jaime does. Brienne is searching for Sansa Stark. However, Brienne has no clue as to how Sansa escaped from King’s Landing, let alone where she might have gone. Brienne travels north, asking people whether they have seen a “maid of three and ten.” She follows many false leads, and is attacked by brigands. Her journey ends in the Riverlands when she defends a group of children against a band of outlaws. Although she survives the fight, she is taken by a different group of outlaws, the remnants of Beric Dondarrion’s band. They are now run by “Stoneheart,” who turns out to be the reanimated Catelyn Stark. When Brienne refuses to assassinate Jaime Lannister at Stoneheart’s command, the outlaws hang Brienne.

Things do not end well for Arya Stark, either. Arya lives in Braavos, across the Narrow Sea. She trains at the House of Black and White to become a “Faceless Man,” one part assassin and one part wizard. There, Arya is required to forget her identity. Although she always claims to be “no one,” her mentor, “The Kindly Man,” always declares that she lies. Still, Arya proceeds with her training, and is even sent into Braavos to live with a family that sells oysters in the city. One night, Arya meets a Brother of the Night’s Watch, Samwell Tarly, and helps him since they are both from Westeros. She later learns that another brother, Dareon, had been traveling with Samwell. However, Dareon broke his oath to serve as a member of the Night’s Watch, and now profits as a singer at a whorehouse. One night, Arya murders the singer, and when she reports this to the Kindly Man at the House of Black and White, he gives her a glass of milk. When she wakes up the next morning, she discovers that she is blind.

In King’s Landing, things also do not end well for Cersei. Cersei hatches a plot to frame her rival queen, Margaery. She hopes to frame Margaery for adultery. Since the latter is married to King Tommen, she will be punished with her life for treason. Cersei also hopes to take advantage of the new High Septon’s zeal. However, when she travels to meet the High Septon, he imprisons Cersei for lechery. When one of her servants manages to visit Cersei, she asks him to send word to Jaime to rescue her. However, when word reaches Jaime, he throws her letter into a fire.

A Feast For Crows ends with Samwell Tarly’s journey to Oldtown, a city known for its Citadel and its learned maesters. Though Sam is a member of the Night’s Watch, Lord Commander Jon Snow sends him south to train to become a maester. Along the way, Sam cares for the aged Aemon Targaryen, the Night’s Watch’s previous maester. Aemon becomes ill during the journey, requiring Sam to stop at Braavos, where he meets Arya and is abandoned by Dareon. Sam and Aemon continue on their journey, but the latter dies along the way. Before he dies, Aemon learns that his descendant, Daenerys, and her dragons, are alive. He is crushed with the realization that he will die before he could help her. When Sam arrives in Oldtown, he meets other acolytes, including Sphinx. There, he discovers that there are many “grey sheep” in the Citadel that are ready to oppose Daenerys and everything that her dragons represent: a world with magic in it. Sphinx is charged with Sam’s care, and he introduces Sam to Pate, another acolyte, who the reader knows was actually murdered and has been replaced by a Faceless Man. Though Sam is unaware, the reader knows that this is the Faceless Man that Arya knew in A Clash of Kings, named “Jaqen H’gar.”

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