Men’s Lives Have Meaning, Part 3: Fires Everywhere

Series so far here

“Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know of fear?”

There are places in the world of ASOIAF where Metropolis is revealed as Moloch, where the horror takes on a hideous cosmic tinge, where curses are real. Harrenhal is one, of course, and the Nightfort is another. 

But I feel there’s one often left off the list. 

“Bricks and blood built Astapor,” Whitebeard murmured at her side, “and bricks and blood her people.” 

“What is that?” Dany asked him, curious. 

“An old rhyme a maester taught me, when I was a boy. I never knew how true it was. The bricks of Astapor are red with the blood of the slaves who make them.”

Astapor is hell. This is made nigh-explicit by the very first sentence set there:

In the center of the Plaza of Pride stood a red brick fountain whose waters smelled of brimstone, and in the center of the fountain a monstrous harpy made of hammered bronze.  

Indeed, when we’re introduced to the Red City, it’s a sprawling charnel house dedicated to unspeakable abuses, GRRM framing its elites as human-shaped ticks grown fat on blood. Hell is a market in human suffering, in which pain is the core of the advertising. 

“We give each boy a puppy on the day that he is cut. At the end of the first year, he is required to strangle it. Any who cannot are killed, and fed to the surviving dogs. It makes for a good strong lesson, we find.”

He stopped before a thickset man who had the look of Lhazar about him and brought his whip up sharply, laying a line of blood across one copper cheek. The eunuch blinked, and stood there, bleeding. “Would you like another?” asked Kraznys. 

“If it please your worship.” 

“To win his spiked cap, an Unsullied must go to the slave marts with a silver mark, find some wailing newborn, and kill it before its mother’s eyes. In this way, we make certain that there is no weakness left in them.” 

Kraznys moved to the next eunuch in line, a towering youth with the blue eyes and flaxen hair of Lys. “Your sword,” he said. The eunuch knelt, unsheathed the blade, and offered it up hilt first. It was a shortsword, made more for stabbing than for slashing, but the edge looked razor sharp. “Stand,” Kraznys commanded. 

“Your worship.” The eunuch stood, and Kraznys mo Nakloz slid the sword slowly up his torso, leaving a thin red line across his belly and between his ribs. Then he jabbed the swordpoint in beneath a wide pink nipple and began to work it back and forth. 

“What is he doing?” Dany demanded of the girl, as the blood ran down the man’s chest. 

“Tell the cow to stop her bleating,” said Kraznys, without waiting for the translation. “This will do him no great harm. Men have no need of nipples, eunuchs even less so.” The nipple hung by a thread of skin. He slashed, and sent it tumbling to the bricks, leaving behind a round red eye copiously weeping blood.

“Douquor’s Pit has a fine folly scheduled for the evening. A bear and three small boys. One boy will be rolled in honey, one in blood, and one in rotting fish, and she may wager on which the bear will eat first.” 

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“But how can I rule seven kingdoms if I cannot rule a single city? My children need time to heal and learn. My dragons need time to grow and test their wings. And I need the same. I will not let this city go the way of Astapor. I will not let the harpy of Yunkai chain up those I’ve freed all over again. I will not march.”


I know that she spent her childhood in exile, impoverished, living on dreams and schemes, running from one city to the next, always fearful, never safe, friendless but for a brother who was by all accounts half-mad … a brother who sold her maidenhood to the Dothraki for the promise of an army. I know that somewhere out upon the grass her dragons hatched, and so did she. I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride? I know she is strong. How not? The Dothraki despise weakness. If Daenerys had been weak, she would have perished with Viserys. I know she is fierce. Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen are proof enough of that. She has crossed the grasslands and the red waste, survived assassins and conspiracies and fell sorceries, grieved for a brother and a husband and a son, trod the cities of the slavers to dust beneath her dainty sandaled feet.