Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran IV

“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.

Political Analysis:

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.

Historical Analysis:

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.

What If? 

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.

add

Advertisements

40 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran IV

  1. scarlett45 says:

    There seems to be a paragraph or sentence missing after “without a religious prohibition against killing guests…” Just FYI.

  2. Brett says:

    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).

    I suspect that the Wall in its original incarnation was just to keep the Others out (not nearly as tall as in the books), and that “wildlings” and “men of the North” were more or less indistinguishable. Over time, the more southerly population in the “North” took on a more organized feudal structure, with the wildlings being those Northerners who couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt. Even then, it was still probably a loose arrangement until the Andals showed up and the North unified in the face of pressure from the South (the “hundred kingdoms” of the First Men and such).

    I think you see some hints of how this might have happened with the contrast between most Wildlings and the Thenns. The Thenns are a proto-feudal society, with hereditary chiefs and bronze-making. They might have been similar to how the North began to differ from the “Wildling” population.

    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.

    Now that’s an interesting idea, one that I hadn’t ever thought of. You could also add Jeor Mormont’s comment about “wildlings serving crueler gods” to that, although he didn’t know about the Others until the Walking Corpse that tried to kill him, and the Fist of First Men.

    That said, you’d think that if they were exiled to the North, “heading south” might be a big part of their culture. There are occasional Kings in the North who lead mass migrations southward, but if Osha is to be believed (as well as Jeor Mormont’s comments to Tyrion), this has really stepped up in recent decades. Before that, they mostly seemed content to stay in the North with occasional raids and people sneaking southward.

    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.

    I liked it. It’s a reminder that Robb is a 14- or 15-year old boy who is doing this for the first time, and is under immense stress from what’s happened with Bran and how his mother more or less abandoned him while Bran was unconscious. He clearly feels embarrassed about it immediately after Tyrion tells him why he stopped there, and offers him guest right.

    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.

    He probably would have eventually thought of something, once he wasn’t so busy helping Robb. Tyrion just beat him to it because of his experience in designing a special saddle for himself.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. While the Wall has been added to over thousands of years, it still must have started pretty high. But the larger question is: how did the Wildlings end up on the other side of it, given that the Others were killing everyone they could get their hands on?

      2. They could have forgotten, that does happen in pre-literate cultures. Oral tradition isn’t that reliable. ALso, we know why Osha’s heading South – they’re trying to run from the apocalypse. Otherwise, they’d stay up where they can be free/speak to the gods, etc.

      3. Except that he does it after doing it with his mother, and then does it again with Yoren.

      4. Maybe, but Luwin outright says he can’t ride.

      • Brett says:

        1. While the Wall has been added to over thousands of years, it still must have started pretty high. But the larger question is: how did the Wildlings end up on the other side of it, given that the Others were killing everyone they could get their hands on?

        With the Others gone dormant (or at least vanished south of the Land of Always Winter), it was probably safe enough for them to migrate northward again once the political climate further south was unfavorable. This would be a gradual process, probably spread out over thousands of years (and my guess is that it would have accelerated once the Andals showed up).

        • stevenattewell says:

          If it’s a gradual process – why would the Night’s Watch have allowed them passage, given that their order would still be in the phase of remembering/believing in its original mission? Why would there be no memory of this process on either side?

          Given that we have records of wildlings as a hostile invasion force 3,000 years ago, I find it strange that the Night’s Watch would subvert itself in this fashion.

      • Brett says:

        Why would the Watch care if people migrated northward beyond the Wall? It’s their funeral – their job is to stop the Others from heading south.

        Why would there be no memory of this process on either side?

        Probably because it happened pre-literacy, over a long period of time, and with a small number of people (we have no idea what the North’s population was like in the pre-Andal period, but it probably wasn’t huge).

        Given that we have records of wildlings as a hostile invasion force 3,000 years ago, I find it strange that the Night’s Watch would subvert itself in this fashion.

        If you believe it happened in-setting 3000 years ago.

        • stevenattewell says:

          The Night’s Watch would care because every body north of the Wall is reinforcements for the Others.

          The lack of memory is strange, given that oral tradition goes back thousands of years on both sides, so you’d expect some mention.

  3. witlesschum says:

    In Feast or Storm, I think, we see Sam getting a chance to look at the Night Watch’s archives and making it sound like this 8,000-year thing is really dubious. I tend to think that’s one of Martin’s medieval touches, when accurate dating and numbering in chronicles wasn’t really something they strived for. I think 8,000 years is supposed to mean “a long time” and that’s all.

    One thing that doesn’t seem right to me is the idea of the building of the wall during the Battle for the Dawn. It seems more likely to me that the Wall was built after the Others were defeated, however that was done. So, the Wildlings might have been just Northerners who happened to have moved back into the area as the Wall was going up. (The Wall is obviously magical, but would seem like it’d have still spent a long time going up.) That and people who fled the North over the years as the Starks consolidated themselves into Kings of the North. (We’re told at one point that the Boltons were once kings in their own right who submitted to the Starks.) Especially once the Andals took over south of the Neck, Beyond the Wall would have been the preferred destination for a lot of northern exiles and outlaws.

    I also wonder what the nature of the Others really is and what their agenda is. I’ve often suspected it’s more complex than “Kill and/or freeze everything!!!!!!!!!” but Martin hasn’t really given us much about their nature. I hope we’ll get more from Bran, as he’s got eyes and ears far and wide now.

    Just one small thing, pretty sure “The She-Wolves of Winterfell” isn’t going to be anything like the title of the next Dunk and Egg. I think Martin’s original phrase was something like Dunk and Egg meet the She-Wolves of Winterfell, but I’d be pretty sure he’s going to stick with the naming scheme already established for those stories. The Sworn Sword, The Mystery Knight, etc. I really hope we get that one in 2013, at least.

    • Brett says:

      In Feast or Storm, I think, we see Sam getting a chance to look at the Night Watch’s archives and making it sound like this 8,000-year thing is really dubious. I tend to think that’s one of Martin’s medieval touches, when accurate dating and numbering in chronicles wasn’t really something they strived for. I think 8,000 years is supposed to mean “a long time” and that’s all.

      It’s in both Feast and Dance. Dance has Jaime’s new hostage pointing out that the Maesters think the Andals showed up around two millenia before the events in the book, instead of the four or five thousand years that were in the histories. Which makes a fair amount of sense – it’s about the time that passed between the Early Iron Age and the Middle Ages in real history.

      It’s definitely on purpose (Martin has said the same thing about the numbers given for particular armies in the story).

    • stevenattewell says:

      You have to be skeptical either way, since much of First Men society was pre-literate, and even the Maesters have restricted literacy to an elite, which limits the amount of written records and makes the absence of a written record less telling. On the other hand, we could just ask the childrne of the forest.

      Well, no, the Wall was built after the Others were beaten back to the Lands of Always Winter – but the question is, given the lands north of the Wall are A. clearly subpar and not particularly arable, and B. the Wall is clearly designed with the Others in mind as an active threat, why would the victorious First Men allow anyone on the other side of it, when they’d be targets for the Others?

      Likewise, when the Andal invasion was stopped at the Neck – why go over a massive barrier into less viable land when the North has such low population density?

      • witlesschum says:

        There’s a lot ways around the wall for small groups, though. It’s built to stop a giant magical invasion. Going north or going south, even at the height of its power, the Watch would have had a hard time keeping small groups of broken men types from slipping past. It might have tried and failed because of the size and wildness of the land and people involved. Or Lord Commanders of the past might have even tolerated the Wildlings as an early warning system. If Wildlings start to disappear the Watch would be warned the Others were active.

        With the Andals thing, I was imagining that as they conquered the First Men groups would have moved North and sometimes displaced other in the North, but that’s not realistic in the narrative or in reality. Elites would get displaced, like William and the Normans in England, but most of the people would remain the same.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Still seems a stretch to me. The Night’s Watch has a strong incentive not to let anyone past the Wall, and would be much better able to stop them from crossing or bringing them back with 40,000 men if you’re talking about small groups.

          Sure, groups could have moved North, but the North is immense and has incredibly low population relative to territory, so displacement is highly unlikely.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I don’t really see the idea of the Night’s Watch leaving the wildlings on the other side of the Wall as it was erected to be unlikely or problematic. First of all, the Night’s Watch has evolved over its long history, as I believe you’ve commented on in previous posts; I think that it is entirely possible that the Night’s Watch was not always the (more or less) organized and regimented institution that it is now. Given that the society that initially must have produced it was of the First Men (a bronze-age, Celt like people perhaps?), I don’t think that they would have had the organization, communication network, and command structure necessary to round up the entirety of the population living north of the wall that they were building. We might be tempted to assume that they were a well organized body based on the enormous engineering feat that they accomplished, but I would argue that A. the kinds of organization required to forcibly emigrate an entire population are radically different from those necessary to erect fortifications, and B. we can’t draw too heavily on the Wall as evidence for anything historical given its magical nature (it inherently breaks the “rules” of history).

        Furthermore, I think that it is implicit that the Wall was meant to keep out both Others and Wights. So while we might applaud Jon’s effort to deny his enemy every possible advantage, his decision to do so does not say anything about the mindset of the original Night’s Watch. It is entirely possible that the founders of the brotherhood looked on the Wall with much the same attitude as the engineers who built the Titanic: marveling at the immensity of their accomplishment, they overestimate its efficacy and let failsafes and preventative measures slip because they deemed them unnecessary. And expensive. Once your society has undergone the strain of building the largest structure ever made, does it then have the resources or the will to venture beyond that structure to round up and march a lot of “worthless”, poor people back south? I don’t think so. Not in that era.

        • stevenattewell says:

          1. I don’t think there were people living North of the Wall – the Others are omnicidal. Unless you buy my theory about them sacrificing people to the Others.
          2. Mass emigration is a bit difficult with a giant wall in your way, no matter how it’s constructed.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I don’t know why there wouldn’t be people north of the Wall. Assuming that the Wall went up after the initial war with the Others, it is entirely possible that people resettled the far north before the Wall was completed. Also, I don’t think that we need assume that every single person in the ancient far north was killed: if the initial invasion of the Others pushed far enough into the south,(as I suspect it did), and if that same invasion moved much more quickly than the current one (which I also suspect is true), then I think it is possible that people may have survived that far north. Not many, but some.

  4. axrendale says:

    I’ve missed commenting on your last few posts – anyway, great writing on all of them.

    I’d like to take issue with you on one particular thing – the streak of immature behavior that you identify in “Stupid Robb”. I agree with the points that have been made above that it seems fairly clearly to be an indication of inexperience and an element of “boyishness”, for want of a better word, that remains lodged in his character even as he is maturing in other ways (whether or not this is one of Martin’s strongest characterizations is beside the point). This part of his character was largely excised from the show adaptation – as you note almost certainly because it would have seemed jarring coming from a 17-year-old rather than a 14-year-old. However, I disagree that this was an improvement over the books, and that it is comparable to episodes such as Tyrion’s infamous demonstration of acrobatic prowess back in Jon Snow’s first chapter.

    The reason for this is that unlike Tyrion’s somersaulting, which vanished after that chapter and proved to be completely superfluous to his character (apart from a brief come-back in ADWD, when we learn that he enjoyed tumbling as a child, and that it was one of the many points of contention with his father), the antics of “Stupid Robb” do not vanish as the series goes on, and are anything but superflous – instead as the story progresses, Robb’s lapses into childish or emotionally-driven, irrational behavior, are going to have immense consequences. We see a return of this side of Robb near the start of ACOK, when he snaps at his uncle Edmure in a nasty way for a very petty reason (this brief spat is almost certainly what leads to Edmure being left in Riverrun with no information about Robb’s plans beyond an order to hold the castle in his absence), and he later makes decisions to send Theon Greyjoy back to his father and to marry Jeyne Westerling, that seem in hindsight to have been the stuff of madness – or rather, the same sort of impulse that led him to brandish a sword at a traveller in his home whose family he suspects of enmity. In the show adaptation, coming from the mature show-Robb, these decisions seem almost bizarre in their rashness. The fact that we have already seen book-Robb fall down in this regard over much smaller matters makes it seem more believable when he trips up on the big ones.

    How to explain this in context of the larger development of Robb’s character? As he assumes the mantle of leadership in Winterfell, and later leads the armies of the North south to fight the Lannisters, it becomes obvious that Robb is not only a naturally brilliant general, but also a savvy politician and charismatic leader. The trouble is something that his mother puts her finger on in a later AGOT chapater, when she argues against his inclination to put Greatjon Umber in command of the Northern foot to fight against Tywin Lannister. Catelyn laments that Ned taught his sons everything – except how to think. When he has familiarity or guidance to rely on, Robb is usually very adroit in his handling of problems, whether it is on the battlefield or in the royal court. But certain areas seem to make him revert to the teenager who would prefer to wave is sword around.

    On another matter – the direwolves attacking Tyrion – I think that this should be viewed in conjunction with the incident in which Tyrion fell afoul of Ghost during the journey to the Wall, before Jon’s direwolf later warmed up to him. Ghost was hostile to Tyrion when he was needling Jon – when the latter two began to establish their relationship, the wolf’s attitude also changed. The connection that the direwolves have to the Stark children remains somewhat mysterious apart from as a manifestation of warging ability, but I think it is likely that their attack in this chapter was directly sparked by Robb’s own hostility to Tyrion.

    • stevenattewell says:

      You make a good argument, but I still find it less than appealing writing in that, rather than have character development that goes somewhere, you have characters “learning lessons” then defaulting back to status quo.

      And it’s not Robb being angry or emotional that I have a beef with – given what he knows, he’s got every reason to hate Tyrion at that moment, and I wouldn’t expect a lad of 14 dealing with what he is to react calmly to the news of Benjen’s disappearance.

      It’s him pulling his sword TWICE after he’s already been reprimanded on that specific issue that I find over-the-top.

      • axrendale says:

        I don’t necessarily disagree with you – as I said above, this particular episode may not be one of Martin’s best characterizations. But all the same, I am not so sure that Robb really did “learn a lesson” over the previous incident, so much as he backed down in the face of disapproval from his mother and Maester Luwin without really internalizing what they were trying to tell him (since Robb is the only Stark apart from Rickon who doesn’t get a POV it is impossible to say). Even as he is maturing in many ways and learning the particulars of being a lord, it seems to me that Robb never does quite manage to let go of the part of himself that loves to wave the sword around, and that this is one of the central contributors to his eventual status as (one of) the great tragic heroes of the War of the Five Kings. The proof is in the pudding – or rather, in the sheer number of times that Robb will pull the brandishing-his-sword act over the course of the book: first when he was provoked by Joffrey, then when he learned of the Lannisters’ plotting, then in meeting Tyrion, then with Yoren.

        As has been noted, all these moments only serve to make Robb look childish, and can be argued to undercut some of the other developments he makes as a character. However, I think that it is worth keeping in mind that before the end of the book, Robb is going to have one more moment in which he brandishes his sword – and that this last moment is not going to seem childish at all, but rather stands as part of the culmination of his role in AGOT. When the lords of the North and the Riverlands gather at Riverrun to debate their future course of action, and the prospect of making peace with the Lannisters is raised, Robb takes out his sword and declares that *that* is the only peace that he means to ever have with his enemies. Catelyn reflects as she watches him that no matter who he may be betrothed to, he has already made his real marriage, and taken war as his true bride. Whether this can be tied back to his earlier displays as a part of his character development is somewhat questionable, I admit. Still, it does get at the heart of what makes Robb a very flawed leader, despite the natural inclination of the audience to be sympathetic towards him and his cause.

        To inject a historical note into the subject (one of my favorites parts of your posts on this blog) – you have previously written that Robb’s character can be paralleled in some ways with the historical figure of King Edward IV of England. While I can certainly see where this comparison comes from, in truth I am not sure that it is the best fit (in my view Edward IV seems closer to Robert Baratheon). The historical figure that I find Robb Stark most similar to is King Charles XII of Sweden, the military genius and charismatic leader who famously declared that “I have resolved never to start an unjust war but never to end a legitimate one except by defeating my enemies”, and whose belligerency ultimately resulted in the complete ruin of the Swedish Empire at the hands of hostile powers in the Great Northern War – just as Robb Stark’s war, no matter how just or brilliantly fought it may have been, ultimately resulted in devastating losses for the North. (Interestingly, they both became cult figures among their people after their violent and unexpected deaths). Neither figure, historical or fictional, can be doubted to have possessed phenomenal ability as a leader, but they shared certain character failings that were arguably an offshoot of their greatness, and which led to disaster. In the context of this discussion, it is worth noting that Charles XII was also given to frequent childish or petty displays of belligerency (sometimes quite violent ones) that contemporaries found to be jarring in a man otherwise noted for his outstanding self-possession.

      • stevenattewell says:

        The issue with Robert as Edward IV is that Robert did what his Kingmaker counselled, and his marriage was the cause of his reign’s stability. Whereas Robb goes against the counsel of his mother and his uncle, and his marriage brings his reign down. All that we would need is an alternate timeline where Robb escapes the Red Wedding, pulls of his recovery of the North, then gathers up another Northern army and takes King’s Landing.

        But I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the sword business.

  5. The wildling beheaded is Gared, not Grenn. Grenn is the auerochs and very much alive and kicking.

    • stevenattewell says:

      In my defense, it’s really easy to mistype those two names.

    • witlesschum says:

      But neither Gared nor Grenn is a wildling, Stefan! Ha, ha! That’s what you get for correcting someone, by the laws of the internet gods old and new.

      (Typed with a smile and meant all in fun, I assure you. And thanks for the excellent blog and podcast.)

  6. Andrew says:

    Bran the Builder built the Wall after the War for Dawn. I think he is the source for the AA and last hero legends as well. He chose the surname Stark as he was in a grim situation alone. He named his keep “Winterfell” to commemorate when the Long Winter fell.

  7. […] Bran IV (introducing the law of hospitality, the history of prosthetics, and StupidRobb) […]

  8. […] the reasons why Bran VI interests me is that we get a rare glimpse of Smart Robb (as opposed to his evil twin Stupid Robb) in how the acting Lord of Winterfell deals with all of these pushy lords. To […]

  9. mask says:

    an alternative to your sacrifice idea…the north pulled a redeker plan. would be interesting

    Timeline may not work, but given that the wall is built essentially at the shortest point of the northern north and given how spread out populations beyond the wall are, they may have chosen/been froced to stay

  10. […] and ambiguity around safety – both the place and its owner is literally offering partial guest right. Some of the Night’s Watch will be given bread and salt and a place under the roof, others […]

  11. […] much in the same way that a stranger showing up to someone’s house is a test of their xenia. Here, Arya looks past Jaqen’s appearance (demonstrating insight), provides assistance as […]

  12. […] observed throughout the premodern world. In ancient Greece, for example, envoys were considered as guests, and thus under the protection of Zeus Xenios, as any stranger who might come to your door might […]

  13. […] in his own works and in public talks, has Arya succeed in her quest because she paid attention to Old Nan’s stories. Arya and Old Nan are quite correct – in genie stories, the third wish is crucial, not only […]

  14. […] again, this runs against a lot of textual evidence. Legend tells us that Brandon the Builder built the Wall, and legend explains how it was built by telling us that he learned magic from the Children of the […]

  15. […] and the reader to the culture of the Free Folk, for the first time seen as a nation rather than as individuals  or isolated […]

  16. […] who lives for crushing the hearts of his fans. (And not before time either, because as Bran’s Last Hero story should remind us, unlike in Tolkien, the protagonist’s boon companions aren’t going to […]

  17. […] we’ve seen before, fire as a defense against the White Walkers lurks in the collective unconscious, oft forgotten and frequently dismissed as old wives’ tales. However, in this case, Jeor […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: