“Oh my sweet summer child…what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night…”
Synopsis: a depressed (and repressing) Bran listens to Old Nan tell some ghost stories, and then is summoned to the Great Hall where Robb pointedly does not welcome Tyrion to Winterfell. Tyrion offers Bran a specially designed saddle, then is randomly assaulted by direwolves. Over dinner, Yoren shares the unwelcome news of Benjen Stark‘s disappearance, and Robb and Bran spend their first night talking in some time.
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a rather short post, since Bran’s storyline doesn’t really pick up on the political side of things until Clash of Kings, but let’s make the most of it. While most of the chapter concerns itself with Bran grappling with his paralysis, there are a few political themes worth investigating.
First of all, we have Old Nan’s (rather unreliable) histories that point to the extreme (and historically implausible) longevity of the Stark line. If Nan was brought into the castle as a wet nurse when Bran’s grandfather’s older brother was a baby, then given that Rickard was at least at least in his forties at the time of Robert’s Rebellion (17 years prior to the beginning of the narrative), than Nan is at least in her 70s. If on the other hand, she was brought into the castle when Bran’s great-grandfather’s older brother was a baby, she may be pushing a hundred. Given Bran’s vision in A Dance With Dragons and the title of the next Dunk and Egg Novel (tentatively,”The She-Wolves of Winterfell”), it’s quite possible that Nan is the daughter of Dunk, or even Dunk’s lover (which would put her at 120 years old, but you’d have to assume that she’s mixed up some of the generations of her descendants since her sons couldn’t have fought in Robert’s Rebellion if that was the case).
We also learn something of the “Long Night” and the Last Hero who saved Westeros from the Others – who, given the earlier discussion of recursive Brandons, may well have been Brandon the Builder and the source for the legend of Azor Ahai (given the similarities of both the Last Hero and Azor Ahai as heroes who successively lose everything they love in pursuit of a sword that will not break, and that Bran the Builder built the Wall during the Battle for the Dawn, stopping the threat of the Others). This also raises the interesting question – given the seemingly apocalyptic nature of the “Long Night,” with humanity pushed south and everyone left behind exterminated, how did we get wildlings? One possibility is that the wildlings were collateral damage caused by the construction of the Wall, or that they were later exiled beyond the Wall as part of some scheme of land clearances (as Ygritte will later suggest). A darker possibility suggested by the seductive quality of the Others in the Night’s King story and Nan’s stories of willdings sacrificing children to the Others, and one that the wildlings themselves would surely deny, is that the wildlings are the descendants of those who, during the Long Night, purchased safety from the White Walkers by sacrificing human beings to them as a sign of submission and who were banished for their crimes. Something to keep an eye on.
A second theme lightly touched on in Bran IV is the theme of Robb becoming “Robb the Lord,” learning to put on “the stern face” and undescribed “voice” of this character. This process echoes earlier descriptions of Eddard “donning the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell” when he has to execute Gared for deserting the Night’s Watch. What it entails is a bit more mysterious – we can see Robb finishing up his military training both in terms of personal combat and leading other men, learning estate management with Maester Luwin, visiting surrounding holdfasts, and so forth. On the other hand, Martin almost immediately undercuts this by having Robb act impulsively with Tyrion, greeting him with an open blade (which symbolically denies Tyrion guest right at Winterfell), pointing his sword in Tyrion’s face and failing the duties of courtesy and hospitality, and acting the idiot in front of Yoren later on that evening.
What this is trying to show, I’m not entirely sure, although my own guess is that this is part of Martin’s early work that he might like to go back and revise a bit in the same way that Tyrion’s tumbling didn’t immediately make sense (likewise, the theme of Tyrion being repeatedly assaulted by direwolves is something that never really goes anywhere). After all, I think Robb’s inexperience can be shown without the need for what reads like completely superfluous swordplay – but more on this in a bit.
Speaking of the duties of hospitality, or the “law of guest right” as it is commonly known, this is a running theme in the series that I want to highlight for a second for people to keep their eyes on – and keep track of what happens to people who violate them. Under guest right, once a guest has taken bread and salt (in other words, basic staple carbohydrates and an absolutely necessary mineral) they and their host are not to be harmed until the exchange of guest gifts ends the relationship. I’ll talk more about this later, but it’s interesting that guest right in Westeros dates back to the Age of Heroes (along with the Northern custom that judges must also act as their own executioners) and that it is one of the few customs to have made the transition from First Men to Andal civilization in Westeros. Notably, those who violate guest right are deemed to have brought down the wrath of the old gods and the new.
The custom of guest-right seems to have been ubiquitous across the ancient world – it appears in Norse myth, in classical Greece, among the Celtic peoples, and in the Upanishads of Hinduism, which teach that “Atithi Devo Bhava” (“the guest is god). This reference to the divine is not accidental – guest right is often explained through parables in which gods, usually the chief gods appear as impoverished travelers, punish those who violate the custom and reward those who uphold it.
By the laws of guest-right, hosts are bound to be hospitable (providing them with food, drink, and shelter generously), guests are bound to be courteous and respectful (which means keeping one’s hands off the host’s property and leaving after an appropriate period), gifts should be given upon parting to show respect for the honor of both parties, and violence is to be abhorred. Violations of guest right are shown to have cataclysmic consequences: the Trojan War begins when Paris abducts Helen while a guest under Menelaus’ roof, angering Zeus (who in addition to the god of the heavens is also the god of travelers and hospitality); the suitors of Penelope earn their violent deaths by being bad guests who refuse to leave after ten years and abuse Odysseus when he arrives disguised as a beggar.
- Odysseus about to demonstrate that violating hospitality leads to death-by-arrows.
It’s not surprising that Westeros, which we often forget spent almost eight thousand years as a mass of warring kingdoms (and the classical seven of the Kings of the North, the Iron Kings, Kings of the Reach, Storm Kings, Kings of the Rock, Kings of Mountain and Vale, and the Princes of Dorne were after a period of consolidation from hundreds of petty kindships), would so emphasize the custom of guest-right. In a situation where inter-kingdom raiding is ubiquitous and there’s no central monarchy to prevent warfare, where the next village over might be part of an entirely different nation with its own legal jurisdiction making any law enforcement impossible, travel becomes incredibly dangerous. Without a religious prohibition on killing guests, trade between regions, religious pilgrimages, and other vital exchanges would be impossible.
Finally, a quick note on prosthetics. While we often associate prosthetics with modern medicine, they’re actually one of the oldest forms of medical technology we have records for. The Vedas of ancient India, dating back to 3500 BC, describe the Warrior Queen Vishpala losing a leg in battle and having an iron leg made so that she could continue fighting; the oldest surviving prosthesis is a wooden prosthetic big toe from Ancient Egypt dating back to 1000 BC. Götz von Berlichingen, a German knight who fought for the common people in the German Peasant’s War and became known in folklore as the German Robin Hood had an iron hand with springs and leather straps that could grip a variety of objects and move on command. Thus it’s not particularly surprising that Tyrion would be able to divine a prosthetic saddle for Bran, given the level of scholarship that exists in Westeros – although it is surprising that Maester Luwin doesn’t think of it, given his background in medical studies.
I’ve already discussed what would have happened if Tyrion had simply bypassed Winterfell on his way back, and there really aren’t that many hypotheticals I could imagine that are consonant with the characters of the characters in this chapter: there’s no way that Robb is going to outwardly polite to a Lannister when he’s just been told the Lannisters tried to murder his brother twice; it’s unlike Tyrion to take out his anger with Robb on Bran by not giving Bran the saddle design (which actually would be significant, in that it would have meant Bran didn’t go out riding that day, which probably means that either Osha dies at the hands of Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy, or simply slips past Winterfell on her route south, which in turn means that there’s no competant adult to help Bran when the Greyjoys take Winterfell).
The only real hypothetical I can think of in this chapter is what if the direwolves had killed Tyrion? It’s not a very good one in that it ends a critically important character for no reason (indeed, I really doubt that the direwolves hatred for Tyrion is ever going to be explained by GRRM, given that they don’t seem to react that way to other Lannisters who will actually do direct harm to their masters), but it would probably have started the war really quickly without the detour to the Vale and without Ned sidelined due to his injury.
Book vs. Show:
This is one scene that I think the show actually does better in the book by toning down what I’ll call “Stupid Robb.” Robb is certainly rude to Tyrion in this chapter, but the writers have wisely toned down his ridiculous pointing and drawing of swords (which is a rather odd relapse, given that he supposedly learned his lesson about back when Catelyn revealed who was behind the assassination attempts on Bran) and taken out his rather childish display in front of Yoren. Now granted, this kind of behavior is much more understandable coming from the book’s 14 year old than the show’s 17-year old Robb, but it’s still problematic given the need for the readers to care when the “Scarlet Rehearsal Dinner.”
A little bit of teenage impulsiveness goes a long way, after all.