What do I say about this book? It cleared up a lot of things. It made even more things more complicated. There were dragons, and dragons are cool.
Things are getting crazy in the Land of Doom. (That's what I'm calling Westeros and the surrounding areas now. Land of Doom.)
There's a recurring theme of the younger generation having to take up the mantle where the older generation has failed. Thus far, it has ended really badly for everyone. Jon Snow is probably the most sensible person on the Wall, yet he has to face thousands of years of "tradition" and generally idiocy. It is completely logical to forge an alliance with the Wildlings because there are supernatural ice zombies that want to eat your souls. Unfortunately, few people seem to think this is at all a good idea. GUYS WHAT ABOUT THE ICE ZOMBIES.
Also interesting is that Melisandre apparently isn't as manipulative and power-hungry as I thought. At the very least, she relies far too much on her "visions", and is as deluded as everyone else regarding the "chosen one". She tries, at times, to actually do something good, but she's so intent on being mystical that she fails at generating trust. Sacrificing people probably doesn't help with PR either.
I also "enjoyed" Theon's arc, in the sense that seeing him finally overcome his fear and get something done was good. Everything in between was horrifying, and I hope a dragon eats Ramsay Bolton. I want him to be eaten a lot. Asha, of course, was completely awesome, and I probably would have never forgiven Martin if he killed her off. (I still have lots of anger towards him. He's superseded Rowling on "list of authors who like killing off everything I love in their books".)
Bran's continuing story was surprising and really awesome. We get to meet the "Children of the Forest" and see precisely what the three-eyed crow meant. I'm sure "become ageless tree mystic" is low on anyone's list of plans for their life, but I hope this means Bran will play a bigger part as he gets a better hold on his abilities.
Arya is finally starting to learn a bit, while discovering her own abilities to jump into animal bodies. What this will lead to, I don't know. I don't think she'll be as happy as Bran to be eaten by Old Man Willow. That said, I was pleased with her arc in this one. She's clever, and ironically the death worshippers seem to be drawing her back from her continued journey into darkness.
Also, let's talk about Cersei. I hate Cersei. She has major issues, and I'm pretty sure she's one of the most horrible people in this book, but her comeuppance in this book was genuinely horrifying. Rather than being punished for the really horrible things she's done, she's punished for being a promiscuous woman. It's especially terrible since they turn a blind eye to men's promiscuity. It's sort of an anvilicious move on Martin's part, but it's a good view of the hypocrisy we even see today. I felt sympathetic to her. The little detail of her taking so many baths after being parade around the city has a very Lady Macbeth feel. Unfortunately, that means she's probably going to be even crazier.
Tyrion's character arc slowed down a bit, but that didn't mean it stopped. He's a jerk, but he can't help but be less of a jerk than he intends. His behavior to the dwarf Penny betrays that, deep down, he's not as terrible a person as he wants everyone to think.
Also, young Griff. Is he really a Targaryen? Are they faking? I'm actually not so sure, but I hope it's a fake because there is seriously more than enough incest in this book. We don't need anymore.
This is just one of many plans to bring back the Targaryens to power. You've got Quentyn Martell, whose brother was supposed to marry Dany but has died, leaving it up to him, even though he is basically the nerd of everything. Also, he makes Bad Life Decisions Involving Dragons. You really shouldn't make Bad Life Decisions Involving Dragons. You have Victarion, who wants to "rescue Dany", which after her arc, is the funniest thing I have ever heard ever (and also shows his own attitude toward women-she'll just swoon away when he comes to her aid! HAHAHAHAHA)
This leads me to Dany. DANY WHY ARE YOU SO AWESOME. WHY CAN'T YOUR AWESOMENESS JUST INFECT EVERYONE ELSE, AND STOP THIS BEING THE LAND OF DOOM?
Unfortunately, Martin does a good job of deconstructing Dany's "free all the things" tendencies. She may have freed the slaves of many cities, but she left a power vacuum that led to just as many abuses of power, including by the former slaves themselves. (I'm kind of reminded of that Ballydowse song: "Peasants turn princes and chain them again.") She's also made a lot of enemies, and finds herself hemmed in by them. She also finds herself forced to lock the gates against the former slaves who journeyed to get her help when a plague ravages them all.
She wants to be a good leader, but she is still more naive than she likes to think. She hopes a marriage alliance will bring about peace, but the guy is so sketchy it's clear it will all end badly. She's also losing control of her dragons, particularly Drogon who flies off and decides to eat someone. Luckily, though, DROGON SUDDENLY APPEARS AGAIN AND EVERYTHING IS AWESOME AND DANY GETS TO FLY ON A DRAGON AND YAYYYY.
It almost makes up for MARTIN KILLING OFF PEOPLE I LOVE. Almost.
Now, I'll just sit here and wait for The Winds of Winter...