Jon: Okay, last things first: I do not believe that the series will kill Jon. Even though stabbing happened, even though there is no hope in sight, even though this would be a twist very reminiscent of the one that happened in Book 1 with Ned. I just don't. The Jon part of the story isn't done yet; he was built to play a major part in the climax. However, as soon as I finished that final chapter, I was struck with the horrid possibility that the character death about to be revealed (in a few years) is Ghost. The way the scene is written is just too close to the way Grey Wind was locked up while Robb was under attack, and he didn't make it out either. If my favorite direwolf kicks it I will need to be held for pretty much ever.
Cersei: Reading Cersei's walk of shame felt like a super-concentrated version of reading Theon's entire arc. Both bad people who are essentially reaping what they sewed, so do we feel sorry for them? The answer has to be yes, but in Cersei's case especially I found myself second-guessing all the times I wished she would get what was coming to her. I mean, I didn't come up with any specifics and certainly nothing like this, but as a reader you want to see the villains taken down a peg, you know? All in all it was just an uncomfortable thing to have to read through and I was glad to move on to the next question, which is all about repentance. Was this the crisis she needed to re-evaluate herself, or does she just have a new scheme in place?
Tyrion: For me this arc was by far the most frustrating one. I thought for sure that Tyrion's journey east all but guaranteed that he would meet Dany face-to-face and they would each become part of the other's story, but no. Instead we had travels. And more travels. And adventures. And new characters. Which, hey, some of them were cool, but there was so much that I thought could have been entirely cut out without affecting the plot. No wonder it takes you so long to write these books, GRRM!
Also, after Tyrion hit that new low in the brothel I hardly even wanted to read about him anymore. I was interested in the way Jorah reappeared in Tyrion's context and the way their conflict gave way to compassion on Tyrion's part, but I still haven't regained all of my respect for the character and I have to wonder what's going to redeem him if it isn't Dany.
Daenerys: As a nice contrast to the Tyrion lag, I didn't actually expect Dany to be riding Drogon by the end of this book and it was incredibly exciting when she did. The very end, when she "went to stand by her dragon", just gave me this shivery mental image that's sticking with me more than anything else I read. I also just liked how the dragons were developed in general (aside from a certain nerdy complaint that I'll get into later). Most fantasy has the fierce mythical creature bound to the character by love and telepathic energy; I found it a nice change of pace that Dany could just barely communicate with Drogon and couldn't control him at all, and that his loyalty essentially reached its limit at not eating her. And I must admit, seeing her taking flight and being on her own in the wilderness and loving it was kind of emotional. Especially after so many chapters of her political duties and urban lifestyle, it suddenly seemed that this was the first time she had ever really been free.
Although, on that note, I have no idea what to take from her thirst-induced hallucinations. I mean, was there anything new in there? Does it just mean that she's finally heading west?
Varamyr: Best prologue ever. Seriously. It was hard not to compare him to FitzChivalry Farseer, but who cares? We have wargs! I wanna meet the woman with a shadowcat. I thought it was interesting that the bear and the cat hated Varamyr; it wasn't being a skinchanger that made him evil, it was his own choices, and what he did to his animals was wrong.
Bran: Holy crap, kid, stop doing that to Hodor. What are you, a Varamyr? I wish there had been more of Bran in this book, but I guess the important thing was that he got where he was going and now he can totally affect the entire world by being trees. (Loved it when he chastised Theon and Theon thought it was the old gods and he was right.) I'd thought that Coldhands was the three-eyed crow, though, so that was odd. He's still Benjen Stark though, right? And I like the children of the forest, glad we finally got to meet them. I wonder what's going to happen to Jojen and Meera now? And Bran, can you please make your weirwood memories of Lyanna Stark come in a little clearer? I'm still confused.
Quentyn: Okay this was like Tyrion's endless journey only it's for a new character that we don't care about and instead of ending nowhere in particular it ends with him dead after not really doing anything except opening a cage and sure he's a nice kid and all but now I'm just irritated at all of the Martells for making me read through that and we were already not on the best of terms except Doran's a badass but apparently he doesn't know his own son well enough to plan this alliance accordingly and starting a new sentence for this will mean that I'm giving it more attention than it deserves.
(Okay, fine, I'm not being fair and I'm glossing over some important/interesting stuff that happened, but TOO MUCH QUENTYN.)
Davos: Welcome back bro! I still lurves you lots and lots! You survived (I knew you would) and you're a badass and hello Lord Manderly, looks like you are too. My favorite Davos bit? Everything at stake and him in the middle of it like he never wanted to be, and he's sitting by himself thinking about taking his kids on vacation. I so wish he could have met Eddard Stark.
Theon: So, like I was saying about Cersei, it's hard to figure out what to do with the evil characters once they're helpless and suffering. We're not allowed to just forget about them (cripes, even Gregor Clegane is still a presence), but Theon is just so utterly broken that I don't know what the best thing for him would be at this point. Does he repent? Does it honestly matter? Can he do any kind of good now that he missed the chance to reveal the false Arya? (He did get her out of the castle, which was fairly amazing, but I'm not sure how much of that was thanks to his own initiative and how much was crazed fear, or whether I should even make the distinction.)
Oddly though, I really want to see what happens next with him, and particularly, his reunion with Asha. How's that going to go down? Or are they both too hungry and frostbitten to live past the initial greetings?
Asha: You know what? I don't like her, I never really liked her, and I don't care if she never gets another POV chapter. The Greyjoys suck. ALL the Greyjoys suck. You wanna take it up with me, punk? Okay, let me see if I can say anything here that doesn't put me on thin ice with my fellow fans. Labeling Asha with my Greyjoy prejudice was uncalled for. I hope she lives. Sort of.
"Griff": Finally, someone with a griffin sigil. Okay, so apparently Jon Connington lived and was in love with Rhaegar and is raising his son. I didn't really think twice about the authenticity of Aegon until I shrieked at Lady Dorotea and she mentioned that he could be a Blackfyre (thus, mummer's dragon), which actually does seem more likely. I don't think he's going to be king, anyway, and that probably means he'll be dead soon and so will Ol' Griff. It's cool that the Targs actually have a representation in Westeros now though, and the real war has finally reached the homeland. Bring it!
Melisandre: WHAT IS THIS IT'S A MELISANDRE CHAPTER HOLY CRAP THAT'S LIKE HAVING A VARYS CHAPTER WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN WHO IS SHE REALLY okay that kinda breezed on by, didn't it? I expect it was just to answer us that old question of whether or not she really believes in Stannis, which is fair enough. Good to know.
Areo Hotah: AKA Impartial Observer, Dorne Edition. I feel slightly better about the Martells than I do about the Greyjoys, but I am so over the Sand Snakes. At least Arianne is showing signs of character development.
Arya: She's really learning something this time around, isn't she? I don't think the timeline can work out for her to be a fully-trained Faceless Man by the time she gets back to Westeros, but she'll still be a deadly assassin, and she'll be a half-trained Faceless Freaking Man who is also a woman and I can't get over how cool that is. The question of morality as it applies to Arya seems on one hand to be thrown out the window because she's never going to get back to anything resembling innocence, and on the other, it's put forth in an intriguing philosophical way through her training. I like how she tries to find reasons that her victim is a bad person before she kills him, and her teacher keeps telling her that it's not for her to decide, only to kill. It makes a strange kind of sense. Also, I really like Braavos. The people are kind and I hear they have this kickass bank, too.
Jaime: He made a lot of progress in the last book, but it really shows in this one, even though his appearances are brief. He's so done with Cersei, and he's making choices that are for the good of the people instead of just going with the Lannister flow. One particular moment I loved was when someone says "daughter" and he thinks of Myrcella, which Cersei never ever did. I sure hope Brienne doesn't kill him.
Barristan: New candidate for the most honest and honorable POV character. No, Davos still wins that. But whatever, Barristan rocks. I love the way he thinks of Dany, "his bright shining child queen". When it gets to his chapters I can totally see the difficulties that GRRM was having while writing this book, too (he kept mentioning the "Meereenese knot" - uh huh). So now we have Dany vanished, two dragons loose in the city, and Dany's husband potentially plotting against her, but we also have Ser Barristan the totally Bold, and he's going to fix everything. No, he isn't really, but he's probably the most Westerosi thing to ever set foot in that palace, and I can't help feeling that that's going to contribute majorly to how all the story
Victarion: Thug. Dragonfood, I hope.
Kevan: Remember in the last book when he suddenly turned into this completely hardcore politician who knew the truth about everything and was still doing his best for his family and his country? Sigh. Now he's dead. And it's Varys. Sigh. And I'm seeing a fairly strong hint there that Varys is not a eunuch. Sigh. If it weren't for that last part I could actually still be on his side - what he said about good men in service to bad causes was pretty much square on - but if this is all about putting the Targs back into power and not about serving the realm, I just can't get behind it. Don't know what I was thinking, though, believing I knew something about who Varys is.
So what should I read for the next five years?