Chapter-by-Analysis: Bran VII

“You must put these dreams aside, they will only break your heart.”

Synopsis: Bran has a dream of his father in the crypts of Winterfell, so Maester Luwin takes him down there to find…an increasingly feral Rickon (someone please call CPS!). Then it’s story time, until a messenger comes with bad news…

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:

Ok, I’m going to make this a short one, because honestly I don’t really care for this chapter and feel that Bran VI makes a better wrapping-up point for his storyline in AGOT. However, there are a few topics worth discussing.

The Manpower of the North

In this chapter, Bran witnesses Ser Rodrick training replacement guards, who are described as “the oldest were men grown, seventeen and eighteen years from the day of their naming. one was past twenty. Most were younger, sixteen or less.” Likewise, Maester Luwin argues that “your lord father took the cream of his guard to King’s Landing, and your brother took the rest, along with all the likely lads for leagues around.” Some have argued that this is evidence that the North is badly undermanned and that Robb’s 18,000 represented the whole of their troops.

I disagree – rather, I think it’s evidence of uneven levels of mobilization throughout the North. When Robb Stark was mobilizing his forces, he must have recruited heavily from those closest to Winterfell as those would be the soonest to arrive (witness the 3,000 fighting men of the hill clans not being mobilized until ADWD). The reference to “leagues around” suggests a concentric circle around Winterfell, describing those areas of House Stark’s own demesne where people can most easily walk to the castle itself. Thus, I think my estimate of 17,000 men left unmobilized in the North still stands.

Bran’s Dream

This is something where I forgot the details beyond the obvious plot device of signalling Eddard Stark’s death – in the book version, “the crow…the one with three eyes…flew into my bedchamber and told me to come with him, so I did. We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad…something to do about Jon, I think.” It’s always been a bit puzzling why the Three-Eyed Crow would care that Eddard Stark is dead besides GRRM setting up Bran’s greenseer nature one more time ahead of the reveal in ACOK. However, the mention of Jon is quite interesting. I’ve never thought of Bran as the vehicle for the revelation of R+L=J before, but I can see how they could make it work for that plot without getting Howland Reed up to the Wall to meet Jon Snow.

What I’m not sure of is why the Three-Eyed Crow chooses to intervene in the political side of things, given that he acts to ensure that Bran doesn’t remember what he saw in the tower until we’ve reached a point in the narrative where we’re rapidly running of characters who he could tell who would care. One solution to this is that Bloodraven, being up on the Targaryen prophecy about the “song of ice and fire,” believes that it’s somehow important to the metaphysical side of things that Jon Snow know his parentage. I don’t know why it would matter for that plot, and why in that case Bloodraven didn’t reach out to also-a-warg Jon Snow.


The Kings of Winter and The Statues

One detail I really like in this chapter (and which I’d definitely keep if this chapter had to be scratched) is the descriptions of the Kings of Winter, in part because it confirms my theory that Eddard was an outlier in his family, and his personality and values come more from his time as Jon Arryn’s ward than from being Rickard Stark’s son. Consider the descriptions of the Kings in the North: “grim folk…shaggy men fierce as the wolves at their feat. Others were shaved clean, their features gaunt and sharp-edged…hard men for a hard time.” This speaks more to the wildness of the “wolf blood” than a family devotion to honor.

Consider the character of the Starks we learn about. They’re militaristic and expansionist to a fault: Jon Stark drove out sea raiders and built castles to protect his east coast, Rickard Stark conquers the Neck, Theon Stark (btw, how weird is it that Theon is named after a Stark? Or is it the case that it’s just a common Northern name that the Ironborn kept?) was called “the Hungry Wolf, because he was always at war,” Rodrick Stark “won Bear Island in a wrestling match” (which I think is actually a metaphor for a contested struggle with the Ironborn), and Cregan Stark was one of the best swordsmen of all time. As we learn in ADWD, the Starks spent the better part of a thousand years fighting the Arryns over the Three Sisters in no small part because of the sea raid on the North’s east coast.  They also have intense emotions – Brandon the Shipwright was so in love with the sea that he attempted an impossible voyage, Brandon the Burner reacts by putting an entire navy to the torch, Brandon “the Wild Wolf” had one hell of a temper, Lyanna was headstrong and independent to a fault, and even “stern” and political Lord Rickard chose to go out with “harness on his back.”

While I think we need more evidence to be absolutely sure – here’s hoping for The She-Wolves of Winterfell coming out soon to give us plenty of data to work from – all the signs point to the family characteristic of the Starks is a violent temper, with the “wolf” in “wolf blood” signifying a predatory and aggressive attitude, although it’s possible that grimness and dourness is a part of the Stark heritage Ned did inherit. It’s possible that this may be some kind of inherited bipolar disorder, as manic episodes can be associated with irritation and aggression as well as euphoria and impulsivity (which would fit Brandon and Lyanna pretty well), with Ned falling more on the depressive end of things. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether medicalizing and pathologizing these family traits is a good idea (although the Targaryens’ mental health is pretty hard to discuss without it).

And here’s where I think this is important: Ned Stark was fostered at the Eyrie at the age of eight; at the time that he became Lord of Winterfell, he’d lived in the Vale longer than he’d lived in the North, and arguably lived his most formative years there. Consider how the same process made Theon Greyjoy more of a “greenlander” than an Ironborn, and then think about how many qualities Ned Stark shares with Jon Arryn – a focus on honor and honesty, trust in his peers, placing his duty over personal safety, etc. It makes you wonder if Ned Stark had had more of the “wolf blood” than he did, whether Littlefinger would have bled to death outside a brothel and Cersei  would have been taken prisoner in a godswood.

On a final issue: I’ve read the theory that the extra statues in the crypt are there to hide Rhaegar’s silver harp. I don’t really think that’s right, because I think the salience of the harp has declined too far. If we were still in AGOT, there would be enough people of Ned Stark’s generation who would remember Rhaegar’s silver harp enough to make that specific silver harp (as opposed to a silver harp that could be made at any time) identifiable. But at this point…how many people would remember and care?

Other Things To Note: 

  • Maester Luwin has a cache of dragonglass arrowheads – which possibly suggests that there’s a supply of the things left in Winterfell even after the fire, and perhaps even more under the castle. More evidence for my theory that the Final Battle against the Others will take place at Winterfell after the Wall has fallen.
  • We get a huge info dump on the Children of the Forest and the Andals – I think I’ll push this forwards to another chapter, where I can actually bring some of this historical information to bear on actual plot.

Historical Analysis:

I’m planning on doing something on comparing the Andal invasion to the historical Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain, but I think I’ll push it to later in the series as well to where it bears more on plot.

What If?

There aren’t really any major choices made at this time, so nothing to report here. Tune in next time, because Sansa VI has plenty of stuff to work with.

Book vs. Show:

The show trims this chapter down substantially, leaving out a lot of the world-building and backstory (that to be honest wouldn’t work very well in a visual medium). However, one of the things we lose is how severe Rickon’s decline into ferality has become – he’s attacking people, living in the crypts, and basically becoming less and less verbal over time. A minor detail, but something that’s stuck in my mind when I think about Davos encountering Rickon on Skagos.


96 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Analysis: Bran VII

  1. David Hunt says:

    Interesting thoughts on a Ned Stark that was more wolf and less eagle. However, I have doubts that such a Ned Stark would have gotten to King’s Landing as Hand of the King in the first place. Putting aside that Ned’s friendship with Robert formed when they were both wards of Jon Arryn, aren’t you speculating a Ned that’s a close copy of his brother, Brandon. Look where his temper and short-sightedness got him…and his father. I envision such a Ned dying at the Tower of Joy, if not before.

  2. Brett says:

    Interesting point about the Starks having a streak of “wildness” to them. Would that make The King Who Knelt an exception that proves the rule, since what he did was so striking that he’s remembered specifically in the North as the King who surrendered?

    More evidence for my theory that the Final Battle against the Others will take place at Winterfell after the Wall has fallen.

    That could be the case, although I think the Others are going to push farther south first considering Daenerys’ dream about blasting them with dragonfire at the Neck.

  3. gavinbyrnes says:

    Well I suppose we could ask as a What-If: What if Rickon and Shaggydog kill somebody important? Maester Luwin? Osha? Hodor? Bran? I guess killing anybody relevant to their eventual escape means Bran and Rickon don’t escape Theon and things are very bad for everyone ever.

    One last interesting question though: If Ramsay gets ahold of (alive) Bran and Rickon, will he just kill them? Does Roose have any need for them?

    • I just don’t find that a particularly interesting hypothetical; too depressing to think of Rickon murdering someone. Dunno why I find it more depressing than the Red Wedding, but I do.

      • David Hunt says:

        The Red Wedding didn’t chronicle the moral fall of any previously moral characters. Bran becoming a murderer would. The architects of the slaughter were already thoroughly despicable Even during the attack there were acts of courage and self-sacrifice by Robb’s men, such as the Great Jon shielding Robb with the table. There’s some satisfaction in seeing a character die having fought the good fight all the way. Less so, when they realize that love Big Brother.

  4. Sean C. says:

    Bran has more chapters in this book than Arya or Sansa. Enjoy it, Bran, it will never happen again.

  5. ericd19 says:

    I think your comments about the influence of the Vale on Ned Stark are very astute, how I do think that Ned’s coolness and quiet, stoic nature derives in no small part from the North and from the Starks as well. The Starks seem to me to present something of contrasts, at once both cold and hot (Song of Ice and Fire?). Rickard Stark may have died with harness on, but by all accounts he was a stern, cool-headed man like unto his son. Their legendary founder was not a trickster like Lann the Clever or a warrior like Durran Godsgrief, but rather a great architect, Bran the Builder. Likewise, Torrhen Stark was the pre-Targaryen King who was level-headed and calm enough to see that he could not fight the dragons and so swore fealty instead. The wolf blood is a strong strain in the Starks, but they also have calmer elements, but of course they’re all individuals. Not all Starks are wild or cold, nor are all Lannisters clever, nor are all Baratheons warriors.

    I must say though, I’m rather sore about the whole R+L=J thing. I think it would be much more dramatically compelling for Jon Snow to really be Ned’s bastard son by a common woman. I understand that that explanation leaves too much unanswered, but I still think it would be more interesting. The whole hidden heir of royal blood thing seems a bit too typical for Martin, and his tone is too low mimetic verging on ironic, so that his high mimetic and romantic elements sometimes tonally clash with the rest of the work. I’ve had that problem with his writing before. You have all the deconstruction of cliches and grimly realistic social critiques of feudalism going on in Westeros, and then the adventures of Daenerys the Magical Dragon Princess in Essos. Though perhaps a clash is his intention.

    • Julian says:

      Dany bothers me too for the reason you suggest, but I thought (and I’ve only read ADwD once, admittedly) that the point of Dany’s adventures in Essos was to show how badly she screws Mereen up. Dany sort of coasts to victory after victory leading up to Mereen–though this is not to diminish her cleverness in tricking the Wise Masters out of the Unsullied, or in conquering the Yunkai, etc., but you have to admit it all came at little personal cost to her. Then Dany settles down in Mereen only to learn the same lesson that Robert Baratheon learned–conquering can be downright fun and easy compared to ruling.

      As for R+L=J, I think you might be falling prey to hindsight bias. R+L=J is sort of taken for granted on the ASOIAF boards and in fandom nowadays, and I really doubt GRRM anticipated the amount of scrutiny his books would get–he probably thought R+L=J would be a really huge reveal. Unfortunately for GRRM, his books were wildly popular and got pored over by hundreds of thousands of people for over a decade, so now we’re at the point that people like you and me think R+L=J is a cliche (because we’ve lived with it for so long).

    • John says:

      From the very beginning, the Jon and Dany parts of ASOIAF are structured as a standard high fantasy about hidden rightful kings coming of age, while the King’s Landing and War of the Five Kings parts are a brutal deconstruction of those same kinds of ideas. I’m not sure how these two strands will ultimately be integrated together.

      • Petyr Patter says:

        No, Jon and Danaerys are very much part of the same deconstruction of “rightful heir” occurring in King’s Landing. Danaerys believes she is the rightful queen of Westeros. Yet, to claim that right, she is going to invade with a foreign army and displace or kill much of the nobility and small folk. Sounds like a foreign invasion to me, not a rightful heir reclaiming his or her birthright. Furthermore, her claim is based entirely on her father, an insane man who badly needed to be deposed and planed on killing half a million people with him. Is her claim to the throne more important than the lives of Eddard, Robert, and who knows who else before paranoia ran its course.

        As for Jon, he is never leaving the Night’s Watch, whether bastard or legitimate. That is his deconstruction, which is the exact opposite of the fantasy trope. I mean, a Ranger is the legal ruler of a kingdom? That is Tolkien’s plot, and Martin is not about to tread the same path he did.

        • It’s an open question, and one I’m looking forward to seeing the resolution of. My guess is that Dany takes the Throne, but I doubt she keeps it long.

          As for Jon, I don’t think he would want it.

      • ajay says:

        “Danaerys believes she is the rightful queen of Westeros. Yet, to claim that right, she is going to invade with a foreign army and displace or kill much of the nobility and small folk.”

        And the real-world parallel here is with the Jacobites – which GRRM alludes to by listing her as “The Queen Across The Water” in the cast list. The Jacobite pretenders believed themselves to be the rightful kings of Britain and launched several invasions with partly-foreign armies and foreign support; Jacobites in Britain would toast “The King across the water”, though their right to rule depended on descent from an unpopular and overthrown (and slightly mad) king, James VII and II.

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t think Dany will ever take the IT, but that task will fall to Jon. I think she will about to head for KL when she has the rest of the south under control until Stannis comes down south of the Neck from the North, and then try to subdue the North. I think she later dies at the Wall given the foreshadowing. Although, I don’t think it will be from the Others, but childbirth.

        I think the only reason Jon would decide to take the crown is if the Wall fell, and he thought pressing his claim was the only way he could get Dany to bring her dragons and army to provide much needed reinforcements at the Wall, as being the rightful Targaryen heir, Dany would be bound to follow him. Unlike the other candidates, he would not be seeing the crown as an end in and of itself but a means to an end, the security of the realm.

        He would take the crown not out of a personal desire but out of a sense of duty.

    • Yeah, there’s definitely a spectrum.

      And I really don’t think it would be more compelling – I think it would be less compelling for Ned, particularly. And I disagree about the clash; I think Martin makes it work nicely.

      • JT says:

        Remember, Martin started his series long before the internet was a “thing” (at least in the sense that we have ASOIAF forums and sites like this today). So *you* might have noticed R+L=J, but on the whole, the fanbase would be less well informed than they are today.

        I doubt that in a pre-internet age this “secret” would have been so widely disseminated. Personally, I missed the whole Jon is Azor Ahai while reading ADWD (bleeding star, smoke, salt) – it was only when I read the theory online and went back and took a look that I got that “aha” moment.

        I do hope that the Tyrion is a secret Targaryen/third head of the dragon theory doesn’t come to pass (although textual evidence seems far less than R+L=J). That really would (at least to me) be a bridge too far down the “destined for greatness” road.

      • Andrew says:

        If Tyrion does have any Targaryen blood it won’t be having Aerys as a father but likely from Ossifer Plumm’s Targaryen wife. Any children should had would make desirable brides and grooms, and lords tend to mostly marry within their respective regions. Her children could have married into Western houses that in turn married into the main branch of House Lannister.

    • lastofthegiants says:

      I always saw it like that old native Americn proverb about the two wolves fighting inside every person. When a boy asks an elder which one is stronger, the elder replies “The one you feed”. Brandon “fed” his wild wolf side, and Ned “fed” his quit wolf side. I found Robb more interesting when I started looking at his actions as either wild or quiet wolves. he has kind of a personal struggle between the two, neither is stronger or weaker than the other.

    • I believe Torrhen knelt for plot purposes. Dragons versus wargs may be saved for later in the series.
      I wouldn’t put it past Martin to confirm R+L=J but Jon never getting close enough to the throne or being aware of it himself.

  6. Ian G. says:

    It seems fairly clear that wardship has an outsized effect on the personality of the ward, relative to the familial traits that GRRM is fond of imbuing his Houses with. Another example is Domeric Bolton, whose wardship in the Vale apparently made him as different from his father as could reasonably be imagined.

    The fierceness of the Kings of Winter raises, again, a question that keeps bugging me: how the hell are the Boltons still around at the outset of ASOIAF? How many times have these guys risen and been crushed? And yet there they are, still sitting in the Dreadfort, being creepy. I mean, I like it, because they’re great villains, but it’s bizarre.

    • Sean C. says:

      Prior to the timeframe of the novels the ruling houses seem to have been much more lenient with regard to their token traitorous houses — House Yronwood is still around in Dorne even though it tries to defeat House Martell every chance it gets (except right now, apparently).

    • Part of the story is that the Boltons were hard as they come, and maintained independence from Winterfell for 6,000 years and killed their fair share of Starks.

      As for why they still exist, I think it was a cost-benefit thing: the Boltons had lots and lots of men and the Dreadfort is really a tough nut to crack. Wiping them out, Reynes of Castamere style, would involve incredibly high casualties, and properly weaken the Starks sufficiently that their rulership would be challenged by a different house.

      • WPA says:

        One also has to wonder if your theory on the “wolf’s blood” trait being very common among Stark men (I agree with those saying there seems to be two types of Stark men- the Ned types and the Brandon types) leads to Kings of Winter with a propensity for violent retribution and questionable judgment. Also that whole heart tree sacrifice habit. As a result, the Bolton’s, for all their eccentric cruelty, would have a natural base of support as producing a “peaceful land, a quiet people”, and able to appeal to an anti-Stark bloc. That would certainly make them a tougher nut to crack and utterly wiping them out would be both costly and counterproductive.

        So for some northerners, though the Boltons flay their enemies and have some interesting habits, they can “balance the budget” better or raise less hell. That would also keep with some of Martin’s insinuations that the Starks are not as a rule, historically always the guys in the white hats among Northern great Houses.

        That, and presumably in pre-Conquest era, the Boltons are vital in fighting non-Northerners.

        • That’s an interesting point. I do think that we seem to see what could be called the “cold” Starks and the “hot” Starks being contrasted against each other (the Shipbuilder and the Burner, Willam vs. Artos the Implacable, Benjen the Bitter vs. Benjen the Sweet, Ned vs. Brandon).

          As for the Boltons, you’d think so – except the only example we have of a Bolton ally in the past were the Greystarks, who presumably got wiped out for treason. Most of their regional neighbors hate them.

      • ajay says:

        Plus, most of the time they’re loyal. Roose Bolton didn’t betray the Starks during the Rebellion, and Ned “never had any cause to complain of the Lord of the Dreadfort”, Jon remembers.
        Also, the “tough nut to crack” idea. Remember that Jon specifically counsels Stannis against going from the Wall to attack the Dreadfort, and advises him to go after an easier target like Deepwood Motte.

      • Andrew says:

        Do you think the “hot” Starks were the ones who ended being sacrificed like what Bran saw?

        I think the wording: “but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood,” points to the captive actually being a Brandon Stark. If the Greatjon’s actions in the Great Hall are any indiciation, I don’t think that would be too far a case.

  7. alec says:

    Completely off topic for this post, but just made an interesting discovery: China has bastard surnames. Just as Westeros has Snow, Hill, Flowers, Sand and so on, here’s a quote from an article about the disabled in China, describing a female orphan:

    “It was common practice to call nameless girls Dang (‘party’) and boys Guo (‘state’), and so her name was Dang Miaomiao, ‘little darling of the party’.”

    Never knew that.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    I’ve probably said it before and will very likely say it again, but I never can shake the feeling that ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ hasn’t even got out of the Appendices and into A Long Expected Party yet (metaphorically speaking and comparison IS odious, one must admit); it’s not a mental image to be relied upon, but I hope you can all see my point.

  9. Celestial says:

    “Idisagree – rather, I think it’s evidence of uneven levels of mobilization throughout the North.”

    It’s neither. It’s basically a literary trope by Martin – combined with his mishandling of the economic, social and logistic aspects of war (there are additional indications in the text that Martin does not have a good grasp how these things work).
    Basically, one does not need to be a literary genius to understand what is going on here and where do these statements about “very few male adults left” come from. Since Martin planned to have Stannis take refuge in the North and start from scratch, he needed to point out how badly undermanned the North was left. In reality, a region with 4-5 million people would largely be unaffected by the departure to war of an army 18,000 strong and would provide a very strong powerbase for a possible Stannis comeback – but that would take away the drama.
    Personally, I find the description of the effects of Robb’s mobilization so ignorant (unless it was an artistic lycense) to the point of being hilarious. Frankly, it reads as if the North was hit by the plague, not that they had less than 1% of their male population go to war.

    To be honest, it looks as if Martin took the 1% mobilization rule in pre-modern warfare and applied it literally, as if the 1% represented all able-bodied men of military age – not realizing that the 1% is only a rough estimate of how economically sustainable was a mobilization in medieval times and not the number of males of military age.
    From the population he himself indicated for the North, this region should posess at least 500,000 healthy able-bodied aged between 15 and 45. Thus, the suggestion that Rodrik Cassel had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find new guards for Winterfell or that some parts of the North (the Umber or the Karstark domains) were denuded of men is less realistic than even Dany’s dragons. At least, the dragons are consistent with the internal logic of the ASOIF world. The description of the Northern mobilization does not fit even with the mechanics of the world Martin himself created.

    Now, regarding your suggestion that there are 17,000 troops left in the North, my opinion would be to try to avoid giving such specific figures. Unless it is mentioned specifically in the text (so it could be considered an “artistic lycense”), mobilization potential is not a very precise figure.
    In principle, you are correct that there is a lot of military potential still untapped in the North, up to the point of several tens of thousands of new troops, but the actual numbers are very circumstantial, so there is no point in providing more than a rough estimate.
    The 40-50,000 troops estimated to be available in the north can be interpreted to mean the number of men-at-arms in the retinues of the lords and landed knights, posessing military equipment and military training, but that is not the whole potential military potential of a country.
    For instance, even if those 17,000 you mention were to disappear, there is absolutely no military or economic reason why Stannis, if financed by the Iron Bank and with enough time to equip and organize his new forces, would not be able, in 2 or 3 years, to march south at the head of a new army 30 – 40,000 men strong.
    If you look at the RL conflicts from the period Martin inspired himself from, like the Italian wars between 1494-1559 (the War of the Roses is not a good example here, because the armies was usually much smaller than in ASOIF and so were the powerbases of the belligerants), the belligerants were capable to regenerate their forces even after crushing defeats (granted, the pace of the conflict in ASOIF is much faster than in any medieval war and even most modern ones).

    • shaunpeacock says:

      Firstly, I refer you to the article here:‎ which presents an arguable case the GRRM is in fact way smarter than all of us. Or the author of the article does a really good job of covering for him.

      Secondly, I don’t think you understand Steven’s numbers correctly, he takes 35,000 as the number of trained soldiers available (the 1% of the northern population that could be sustained in the field). The northmen have enough experience in war to know how many soldiers they can sustain and keep roughly that number of trained soldiers – this isn’t the full extent of the men of fighting age, just the number of trained soldiers. See also Elio’s video on army sizes (on youtube), which I think is where these numbers come from.

      Thirdly, I don’t think we are meant to interpret the books as saying that Rodrik had to scrape the bottom of the barrel, it probably just meant that he had to train some new guards to provide an adequate garrison for Winterfell and to replace predicted war losses in the Winterfell contingent – which is Rodrik’s job after all. So we shouldn’t interpret the books as saying there are no men to fight, just that there are very few trained soldiers, which are far more useful.

      Fourthly, while you are correct that Stannis could raise a new army from the north, he would require peace and time, neither of which he is likely to get anytime soon, on account of there being two leaders (Roose and Cersei) who are implacably hostile to him, and one group of ice monsters bearing down upon him. Until they’re dealt with Stannis can’t turn the available raw material into actual soldiers.

      Also, we have to remember that the 17,000 includes the 3,000 mountain clansmen, the 3,000 men Rodrik assembles to retake Winterfell (and who largely die with him), and the unknown numbers of Boltons (which Ramsay uses to kill Rodrik &co), Karstarks (separate from the force with Robb), Manderlays and Umbers, all of which are likely to be reduced in the upcoming battle at Winterfell.

      In other words, Steven’s right, there are still soldiers in the north, as well as a large number of men who could be trained to be soldiers, but the various Kings and lords can only work with the former, because of a lack of time and money. And GRRM’s writing reflects this.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        Sorry, the article isn’t at the link, it’s called “Down and Out in Westeros, or: Economy and Society in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire” and can be found with a google search (the result worked for me)

      • Precisely. I was referring to trained soldiers.

        Moreover, and this is another important point: we have to consider equipment and supply. The more people you take away from military-aged males who aren’t trained soldiers, the fewer men you have available to farm, mine, smith, make clothes and shoes, etc. etc.

      • Celestial says:

        Dear Mr. Shaunpeacock,

        With all due respect, you have to be kidding me. Seriously, have you actually read the article you just recommended?
        It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the flaw in Martin’s world-building I commented upon.
        The author of the articles analyzes matters of the general economy in Westeros, in particular the worth of goods, problems of coinage, the various amounts of money mentioned in the books, the finances of the Crown and great houses etc.
        It does not say a SINGLE word about the social and economics issues involved in war mobilization, let alone the specifics of the Northern mobilization – which was what I was talking about.

        As for Steven’s numbers, I understood them very well, thank you very much. I don’t disagree with the basic idea, that Stannis (or someone else) can still recruit many additional troops from the North. My observation was only that it’s pointless to get fixated on a very specific number. One can specify precisely the number of troops gathered for a specific campaign or the total number of “armed men” (uniformed troops, how they would be called in modern times) at a *certain moment*, but not the total number of troops you could potentially mobilize for a campaign an an undetermined moment in the future.
        And, as as side note, I think Steven concerns himself needlessly with those who argued that the North became undermanned. The matter was discussed several times in the Westeros forums and, from what I’ve seen, everyone who knows a thing or two about military history agrees with Steven.

        “The northmen have enough experience in war to know how many soldiers they can sustain and keep roughly that number of trained soldiers”.

        Actually, no. There is absolutely no reason to think that, if the North can sustain just 35,000 men in the field, that is their total number of trained soldiers. Imagine the next situation: a small nobleman has to provide his liege lord 50 soldiers (20 swordsmen, 20 pikemen, 10 archers). The respective nobleman will thus come with 50 men when his lord calls his banners. But there is absolutely no reason why this nobleman could not train 100 men to become soldiers (if, for instance, his domain holds 5,000 people).
        The main problems which limited the size of the medieval armies were of a different nature:
        – lack of a centralized authority to organize an efficient mobilization;
        – weak fiscal system to provide for the army;
        – lack of efficiency of the medieval agriculture, which meant that the departure of even a small number of people from the work force exposed the community to serious economic hardships;
        – weak manufacturing base, which meant that the military equipment, in particular for cavalry, was excessively expensive;
        – inability to supply large number of troops in an era where the main means of transport were the horse and the ox;
        – inability to command the army due to lack of organization.
        None of these factors have anything to do with the training per se. They kick in later.

        “Thirdly, I don’t think we are meant to interpret the books as saying that Rodrik had to scrape the bottom of the barrel”.

        That’s simply not true. It is specifically stated that Rodrik’s new recruits were, most of them, sixteen or less. That’s the definition of scraping the bottom of the barrel.

        “Fourthly, while you are correct that Stannis could raise a new army from the north, he would require peace and time, neither of which he is likely to get anytime soon, on account of there being two leaders (Roose and Cersei) who are implacably hostile to him, and one group of ice monsters bearing down upon him.”

        First, the talk about these 17,000 more troops implied, more or less, the annihilation of Roose Bolton and Stannis gaining the allegiance of the North. Otherwise, the discussion is pointless, no matter how many troops are actually available. You need someone in control of the North in order to make use of them.

        Second, without Roose, Stannis should actually have peace and time. If the Wot5K was taking place in real life, then what was to be expected would have been a lull in the fighting. The Lannisters and the Tyrells are mired in a political squabble in KL and they have Aegon and the Ironborn on their hands. In addition, the Lannister don’t have enough forces for an expedition against Stannis and the Tyrells don’t seem interested.
        The Others are a wildcard, though.

        “there are still soldiers in the north, as well as a large number of men who could be trained to be soldiers, but the various Kings and lords can only work with the former, because of a lack of time and money. And GRRM’s writing reflects this.”

        It’s not just about a “lack of soldiers”, so the lords have to use what they have. There are direct statement about *lack of men*! As seen in the Rodrik quote, he does not just lack soldiers, he lack potential trainees. And there will be later statements in the books that there aren’t enough men to reap the harvest, etc. Or there is a statement claiming that Mors Umber had to take “green boys and grey men” into his army. If there able-bodied men, why on Earth would Mors prefer “green boys and grey men” instead of men between 20 and 30, in their physical prime? Were the former trained soldier? Pretty hard to believe.

      • Celestial says:

        Steve: what I’m trying to tell you is that the respective number is not set in stone.
        I noticed that you keep repeating it and I would say it’s pointless from a historical perspective and unwise from a narrative perspective.
        Those “17,000” is not the number Pi.
        Regarding the “trained soldiers” thing, for instance how do you know that the communities closer to the wall don’t have a much higher percentage of their population trained with weapons, due to the threat of wildling raids?
        Or, even if they don’t, what’s to stop Stannis to recruit several thousands of additional troops like Tyrion did in KL? Granted, their performance was not that great, but, technically, they tripled the size of the City Watch.
        Insisting so much on that number you make it sound as if “17,000” is some kind of event horizon of military mobilization in the north. It isn’t.
        Elio’s estimates provide only a general outline of the specifics of medieval warfare – a “medieval mobilization for dummies”, to say so. That does not mean that these number of 1% becomes the Bible in every possible circumstances. There are a ton of exceptions. You yourself have just provided sometime ago a detailed description of the Battle of Towton, which involved 60-70,000 troops, possible more – much above the 1% rule, as both armies drew from the same manpower pool. Many others can be easily provided.

        • I’m saying 17,000 is the limit of trained soldiers the North has left. Yes, Stannis could recruit untrained peasants into his army, but it would take a lot longer, and he’d need to provide arms and armor – all of which takes money and time.

          And a certain point, we have to accept something the author says as fact, otherwise we can’t build any conclusions.

      • Celestial says:

        Steve: That’s exactly the point. The author does not say anywhere there are 17,000 trained soldiers left in the North.
        That’s your deduction based on a very general estimation done by Elio (who is not the author either; and, despite his relationship with Martin, Elio made it perfectly clear some months ago, in an argument in the Westerosi forums about Robert/Cersei relationship, that his opinions should not be taken as the ASOIF bible).
        As for needing arms and money to draft new recruits, Stannis HAS the money (thanks to the Iron Bank) and MIGHT have the time.
        In addition, there is also an ongoing civil war in the North, whose outcome is uncertain, which can (and probably will) further drain their manpower.

        Basically, there MIGHT be 17,000 trained soldiers left in the North; BUT getting stuck with a very precise figure (either 17,000 or whatever) that early, before knowing how the events in WoW will unfold, North’s final political configuration and losses and the strategic situation of the war (for instance, whether Stannis or other North ruler will attempt another invasion of the South or will they wait to consolidate their forces first), is pointless.

        In addition, one must consider the difference between the short-term military potential of the North (the case in which the number of trained soldiers left in the North has signifcance), in a situation where the troops are needed immediately, and the long-term military potential (such as for LF plans, which you alluded to once), where raising a total new army becomes possible and how many trained soldiers are left does not matter that much.

        And, on a side note, as a historian I would generally oppose using very accurate estimates of this sort which are not limited to single campaigns or very specific circumstances, because they convey the reader an incorrect picture how medieval warfare/mobilization actually worked.

        • It’s not just Elio’s estimates – it’s also the figure that GRRM signed off on for the RPG. As for the money – mercenaries are quicker. As for the time – I doubt it. Aegon’s landed, the Wall isn’t going to be up for long, and Dany will be coming.

          Moreover, the purposes I’m using the 17,000 number for are short-term: analyzing whether the Ironborn could have held the North, what Robb’s military potential could have been holding off the Lannister/Tyrells, etc.

          And as a historian at some point I have to take documentary evidence for what it says, otherwise I go down the endless rabbit hole of the hermeneutics of suspicion.

      • Celestial says:

        Dear Steve, I am sorry to rain on your parade, but I just inquired about it with Elio. Here is the answer:

        “I wouldn’t treat them very rigidly, not only beyond the fact that they’re estimates of the population based on the figures we see, but there can be any number of factors that could lead to limited periods of higher numbers and lesser numbers. ”

        As for “documentary evidence”, give me a break. Here is a reference from an actual medieval document:

        “Assize of Arms, c. 1252: “they (the sheriffs) should have them all swear to bear arms according to the amounts of their lands and cattle: namely, at 15 pounds worth of land, a coat of mail, iron cap, sword, knife and a horse; at 10 pounds worth of land, one hauberk, iron cap, sword and knife; at 100 shillings worth of land, one doublet, iron cap, sword, lance and knife; at 40 shillings worth of land, a sword, bow, arrows and knife; […] at cattle 60 marks’ worth, a coat of mail, iron cap, sword, knife and horse; at cattle 40 marks’ worth, one hauberk, iron cap, sword and knife…”, etc.”

        At no single point there is any specific reference to the actual number of trained soldiers, because military service was based on property owned.
        If you can show me a “documentary evidence” giving a specific number of “trained soldiers” in medieval England, outside those gathered for a specific campaign, I’ll eat that document.

        I’ll also recommend to you Hans Dulbruck’s History of the Art of War, vol. III (Medieval warfare), which includes an analysis of strength estimates in norman England. Basically, on the base of the “Domesday Book” one can try to make an estimate of the number of vassals (“tenentes in capite”), which is assessed to be between 9,000 and 10,000, but Dulbruck’s concludes that “we can do very little with his number, since warriors and nonwarriors are not sufficiently differentiated”.
        The same Dulbruck correctly points out, quotting Drummond, from “Studies on Military History of England in 12th century”, that “the number (of vassals) was not of such great importance from a practical viewpoint as it might seem at first glance, since the feudal army was only very infrequently levied in this form. The number of “servitia debita” is consistent neither with the number of enfeoffed vassals, nor with the total number of warriors in England, nor with the strength of an army levied on these basis. […] The number of enfeoffed warriors in England seems never to have been definitely determined during the regimes of the first Norman kings, since it was of no importance to the king whether a baron fulfilled his servitius debitium with enfeoffed warrior or with those without fief. The first king who had the number of enfeoffed knights officially determined was Henry II, in 1166, and that was for the purpose of creating a taxation law, not for levying an army”.

        The scholarship on the matter has tried to determine the number of *fief holders*, not of “trained soldiers”, which is an unapplicable concept for the Middle Ages and a stupid one to boot. And, even in this case, with far better criteria, as land ownership is much easier to determine that the idea of “trained soldier”, there is a lot of uncertainty.
        Martin provided a number for the RPG because this kind of “games” need such accuracy, but he obviously avoided mentioning such specific number in his books, which are the actual canon. There is no mention of the number of “trained soldiers” in the North, Westerlands, Reach, Stormlands, Vale, Iron Islands *anywhere* in the books. There is a such mention for Dorne, when Tyrion and Quentin speak of Dorne’s “50,000” troops, but that number is explained as misleading by Doran and it is more than a little conspicuous that Doran does not specify the actual number even to his heir, Arianne, only pointing out that Dorne’s strength is exaggerated.
        In this, Martin was wise to do so and he probably noticed the lack of accuracy in the scholarship on the matter, because establishing very precise figures on a general basis for the medieval period is impossible.

        So, don’t give me that a “as a historian you need to go with documentary evidence” because you are NOT a historian of Middle Ages. You are doing well when you need to reference specific events and characters, but when you need to venture out of the respective niche, your lack of familiarity with the period shows. I am sorry to be that blunt, but you are inducing a misleading picture of medieval military situation to a lot of people reading your blog – and as a researcher in medieval history, I cannot ignore that.

        • I was referring to documentary evidence from ASOIAF and comments from its author, not from medieval history. As for the numbers, there are mentions of the Vale’s strength, and the rest we can piece together from various armies raised by Robb, Tywin, Renly, etc.

          Your point is taken, but the manner in which it’s written isn’t. I have long since grown tired of your inability to comment on this blog without being impolite and tendentious. So you’ve gotten yourself a six-month ban.

      • Celestial says:

        Meanwhile, Elio edited a bit his reply to provide more depth to it. Here is the edited version:

        “It’s an approximation rather than a “standing army” figure (I don’t think GRRM believes there’s any real standing armies in Westeros), and I wouldn’t treat them extremely rigidly…. but that said, I think they’re useful as providing something of a rough boundary for troop numbers. Martin’s narrative is not one where an army can be destroyed, and then six months later an army of equal size and quality has sprung up to takes its place. The attrition of the War of the Five Kings has had a tremendous impact, and the winter will have even more of an impact, especially in places that are sensitive to the logistical problems that the season creates (i.e. the North). There are not another 35,000 Northmen ready and able to go to war.”

      • Celestial says:

        PS: Steve, the previous comment is for you only. No need to derail the topic with our dispute.

        As for your argument “This would seem to support my argument – the North isn’t capable of raising troops above the 1% mark”, I think that tells me all I need to know.
        Elio just told you point blank that his numbers are just an approximation, in order to provide a “rough boundary” – and there is a world a difference between your argument that there only 17,000 soldiers left in the North and Elio’s statement there are not another 35,000 Northmen ready and able to go to war.
        If you really think Elio’s statement is supporting your argument, I don’t know how to put it for you not to claim I am being impolite again – but you are living in a world of your own.
        If that’s how you want, that’s fair enough, I will only keep reading your blog and refrain from comments.

        As for being “tendentious” with other contributor, I have to reiterate it again, this time more direct, because at first I did not know whether my first post will appear and I did not want to cause a quarrel. It’s probably a flaw of mine, but, after being valedictorian in my class at the most prestigious university in my country, with a PhD and published materials, I just don’t have the patience to deal that “politely” with people lacking the necessary knowledge, but who exploit the Internet to do what they could not in a seminar room.
        Look at the last argument with me and Seanpeacock: the latter claimed that I was wrong, but he provided me (as evidence) with a source which was completely unrelated to the topic. If you do that in a seminar room, you get a failing grade, case closed, because it means you did not prepare yourself. Of course I am going to sound “tendentious” when calling out such mistakes.

  10. Jeff says:

    “Harness on his back”? What in the world does that mean? In fact where is that in the text? I don’t remember it anywhere.

  11. Winnie says:

    Like your observations about the Stark’s wolf blood having seemingly skipped over Ned to some extent-but being in full bloom in some of his children. Rickon, obviously and Arya as well…possibly a bit in Robb as well. Then we have Sansa, who looks like Cat 2.0 but who as the books go along, I think may have inherited more from Ned in terms of temperament. Incredible self-control, strict adherence to duty, strong belief in tradition, sometimes overly trusting, and with a tendency to see the world as you wish to be rather than is, but notably merciful and prefers to rule through love rather than fear. Not to mention that chilly reserve that can completely mask what Sansa-or Ned-are thinking. (Though, obviously Sansa isn’t as grim.) In some ways, I think she’s the one of his children who resembles him the most, in terms of personality-it’s just not evident partly because Sansa looks like a Tully, but also because Sansa is Ned’s traits in a very traditionally feminized form. They’re both dedicated to fulfilling their socially proscribed roles-it’s just that Ned being a male heir, and Sansa being a woman have different roles they’re expected to perform. At least that’s how I see it.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point.

      Although Bran is something else – more of a throwback to Brandon Snow or Brandon the Builder.

    • David Hunt says:

      That’s…a view of Sansa that’s never even occurred to me. Also, by the time we get into AFFC and beyond, my view of Sansa is of someone whose grimness is on a par with Ned and ,much scarier in the political arena.

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah, it’s worth noting that Ned may not have started out so grim either; but in between what happened to Rickard, Brandon, Lyanna, and his traumatic wartime experiences, may have given him a permanent case of melancholy…which may very well be what’s happening to Sansa.

      • David Hunt says:

        I think that you’re partly right about Ned’s various traumas making him so grim. However, I think part of it was that it was just his personality to be that way. Meera Reed’s story of the her father meeting the Starks at Harrenhall gives me the impression that Ned already was pretty introverted with a rich internal dialogue that he hid from the rest of the world. There’s other sources about him as a young man that I can’t place exactly such as description of his interaction with Asharra Dayne that push me further in that direction. That could easily be “grim” to the outside observer and is more likely to look that way as he grew older.

    • scarlett45 says:

      I would most certainly agree with this. Sansa is Ned’s daughter through and through, fully committed to their duty, but their roles based on gender do cause them to have different ways of fulfilling said duty. I always thought Sansa was a lot like Ned.

  12. JT says:

    Semi-unrelated, but since you’re talking about the potential size of the North’s army, how big (population wise) do you think the North is? What about the other regions?

    I always assumed that the Iron Islands are far and away the smallest region in terms of population, but based on later books, the Ironborn are able to mobilize an amount of soldiers that puts them close to par with the other regions, Reach excluded (back of the envelope math: 100 ships at 100/men ship in the Iron Fleet for Victarion = 10,000 soldiers + whatever Euron takes to invade the reach + Asha’s fleet + the losses in the north = ~20,000 soldiers).

  13. Andrew says:

    1)I think BR has been trying to contact Jon like he did Bran. Jon has a dream in ADwD where he feels a gnarled hand on his shoulder from someone caling his name (Mormont’s raven it is revealed when he wake up), gnarled being another adjective for a tree. I think BR and Bran will reveal to Jon his heritage while he is comatose. Jon has a dream that he goes down into the crypts where something horrible is waiting for him, and Bran’s dream of Ned being down there telling him something disturbing could point to Ned being down there to tell Jon the truth of his heritage as the horrible thing. Also, possibly his mother, Lyanna, could be down there like Ned saw in his crypt dream, and like Jaime seeing his mother in his dream in AFfC, he knew who she was and she is described as “someone I never knew.” The same could be said for Jon and his mother. I think whether or not it is an actual apparition of Ned or not will be left ambiguous.

    The news is horrible since:
    a. It means that Jon had been lied to his whole life by the man he prided on being his father.
    b. His real father was the man who died on the Trident before he was born, who Jon had been told had kindapped and raped his aunt who was actually his mother.
    c. Jon’s origins are the spark that ignited the fuse of the War of the Usurper.
    d. That would also make Mad King Aerys his grandfather, the exact same man who killed his other grandfather, Rickard, and his late uncle, Brandon.
    e. It means he can never be a Stark, since legitimization only applies to bastards.

    2)As for what is in Lyanna’s crypt, some have speculated it is either a ring with the Targaryen sigil like Egg in the Tales of Dunk and Egg, or Torrhen’s crown, as it is ringed in iron swords, and every Stark statue is holding an iron sword, apparently except Lyanna’s. The crown was made of bronze and iron, so there would have been nothing of large value to gain from melting it down, and was likely left in a vault.

    • 1. That’s a really interesting guess.
      2. I doubt it.

      • Andrew says:

        1)What do you think Jon’s reaction to the news of his heritage would be?

        Do you think it is possible he could suffer some crisis of identity?

        2) You think a ring with the Targaryen sigil would be more believable? Since it would be a reference to Dunk and Egg, where Egg, who used a name to hide his Targaryen identity like Jon, carried the ring around just in case to prove who he was.

        Another thing, in regards to WF after the Wall falls, I think that is where Jon goes to Dany to get her to bring her dragons and army to the fight as Dany is likely going to WF subdue the North. I imagine poor Rickon would have another traumatizing experience, like seeing Osha killed by a dragon. I think that is where Jon’s heritage is publicly revealed. Jon knows that Dany would be duty bound to follow him. While other claimants will try military force to defeat her and fail, Jon may subdue her through law and the same claim she is using, her greatest asset for the IT other than her dragons, being used against her.

        • 1. Quite possibly, but I think it might not hit as big to someone who’s just reacted to coming back from the dead.

          2. I’m not sold on a ring either. I think it’s going to have to be a first-person account. I don’t think Dany would believe anything else.

      • David Hunt says:


        I don’t believe for a second that Dany would give up her claim in favor of Jon based solely on his heritage, and I’d take a good deal of convincing to believe that she’d give up her claim to someone else under any circumstances whatsoever. A huge portion of Dany’s self-image is tied up in her being the last Targaryan and the rightful Queen of Westeros. She’s come from an abandoned and cursed widow followed only by a few people and most of them ex-slaves to the head of a conquering host. Plus, of course, she’s the first Targaryan in 150 year to actually manage to hatch dragons. Virtually everything that’s she’s experienced is pointing her to the view that Destiny is on her side.

        I don’t believe she’d give that up for Aegon VI, even if he actually is her nephew with the stronger claim, and he looks the part and has Raegar’s closest friend vouching for his identity. Jon’s case looks vastly worse than Aegon’s from where I’m standing. First, there’s the question of his legitimacy. Even if Raegar married Lyanna, he was still married to Elia Martell. Bigamy hasn’t occurred in the Targaryans since Aegon I. His legitimacy would be shaky and any claim he had would still be subordinate to Aegon VI’s. Also, Jon’s appearance SCREAMS “I’m a Stark,” plus he was raised by one the prime rebels that overthrew her father. IIRC, her closest advisors have weakly tried to make the case that Eddard wasn’t as bad as he was in the stores that Dany grew up with, but Jon’s being raised by him would be a major negative in her eyes. Oh, and finally, Jon seems to be on a course to openly supporting Stannis as King and Stannis’ brother was The Usurper. I can believe her marrying Jon for political reasons although I can’t currently guess what those reasons might be, but I don’t think Dany would tolerate anyone else on the Iron Throne as the ruling monarch as long as she’s alive.

      • Andrew says:

        David Hunt,

        Dany would have to stand aside for Jon if she knew he is the rightful Targaryen heir as her entire claim is based through the Targaryen line. She knows that if she refuses him then she is no better than Robert when he took her father’s throne, and would be just another usurper.

        Steven Atwell

        I think Jon will not have time to grieve as well, as along with resurrection, he will that the situation at the Wall has gone to hell with Marsh as the LC, and the NW fighting wildlings.

        As for first person account there is a theory to a witness other than Howland Reed: Ashara Dayne.

        The theory is that she is actually HR’s wife under the pseudonym Jyanna (Jon+Lyanna). From the story Meera gives, HR did pay special attention to Ashara and noted all the men she danced with. It could have been that he told his children the story of how he met their mother.

        Ashara’s account would be believed as along with Starfall supplying the ToJ, she knew both Rhaegar and Elia. She was Elia’s friend and lady-in-waiting and her brother, Arthur, along with being a member of the KG, was Rhaegar’s oldest friend. She also never ventured outside Greywater Watch, and with no ravens, so people know that she could not have contacted Jon to come up with a plan to take the IT by posing as Rhaegar’s son. Also, placing a bastard son of Eddard Stark on the IT as Rhaegar’s son would be an insult to her friends’ memory, so there would be a motive lacking.

  14. Roger says:

    Most Stark and many Northeners have a short temper (Greatjon Umber, RIckard Karstark, even Robb Stark is somewhat bold). But others are pure ice. Even the Stark’s motto talks about prudence and memory: Winter is Coming.

    Bran’s greenseers talents are independent from the Crow. The Three-Eyed bird can influence his dreams, but not his visions, AFAIK.

    Interesting notes about former Kings of the North. I hope in the future we would now more about the old KotN, and also about the kings of the Vale, kings of the Rock, etc.

    About the North manpower, I think Robb took with him the “professional” soldiers and the hardened veterans. Many unexperienced men were left behind. So you can still build an army.

    Karstark and Umbers live in the far North. Probably land with less people, so they feel the lack of men more sorely. Also probably Lord Rickard and Lord Jon take the men more directly depending of their casttles. So probably there are still men in scattered villages and farms.

    The same thing happened with the North clans. Some men went to fight and died at the Trident and the Red Wedding, but they live so dispersed Robb couldn’t wait for them. So they were still up there (thanks to R’hllor).

    • Bran – but in this case it was a dream.

      Manpower – no, 35,000 is the figure given for the North’s full military s trength. Keep in mind, Robb was trying to get south as quickly as possible to rescue his father. So he didn’t have time to get everyone in.

      Also, I disagree about the Karstarks and Umbers – for one thing, both Houses are big enough to have commands of their own, and both are able to field men even after the Red Wedding. And while their territories are more northerly, they’re also quite large.

      • JT says:

        How do the smallfolk on Karstarks and Umber lands survive winter? IIRC when Tyrion goes to the wall in AGOT he describes the northern most part of the North as cold with occasional frost – and that’s during summer!

        Winterfell has hot springs and glass gardens, the Dreadfort is on volcanic vents, and White Harbor is a port, so those make sense to me (although as a peasant, death might be preferable to riding out the winter in the Dreadfort).

        I’m amazed that Karstark or Umber lands (or somewhere like Deepwood Motte, which is a wooden castle) can support any sort of human scale, especially to the point where they can each raise armies of several thousand people – it seems like living in Siberia, except you occasionally get no growing season.

        In ADWD, we see the difficulty of moving through the North during winter, which means that any sort of large scale trade/movement of goods must be really hard.

        • Well, to begin with, I think we have to understand that it’s unusual for winters to last multiple years – I think a year’s winter is much more usual, and it’s livable. After all, homo heanderthalensis survived an ice age with much less advanced technology than is available to the smallfolk of Westeros.

          If I had to guess, I’d say that the smallfolk of the North are more livestock-intensive than wheat-intensive, raise very hardy stock, and also grow large amounts of legumes to keep the soil rich and the livestock alive for as long as possible, and lots of root vegetables that can store for a very long time. I think during winter they keep livestock in the house to help heating, as was fairly common in parts of northern Europe. I think they’ve gotten very, very good at food storage.

          And I think they also are very pragmatic about family planning and the elderly, which isn’t uncommon among societies that live in extreme environments. And I’m guessing that the population tends to experience drops during long winters. I know it’s a TV line and not a book line, but Littlefinger’s comment about having three years’ grain and needing more peasants if the winter lasts four is probably accurate.

      • Andrew says:

        Would say for maintenance of soil they follow the three field crop rotation with wheat/rye, peas, lentils and beans and fallow in that order, or the four field crop rotation with wheat, turnips, barley and clover in that order?

      • ajay says:

        ” I’d say that the smallfolk of the North are more livestock-intensive than wheat-intensive, raise very hardy stock, and also grow large amounts of legumes to keep the soil rich and the livestock alive for as long as possible, and lots of root vegetables that can store for a very long time.”

        You make them sound a lot like pre-clearance Scottish Highlanders. Which is appropriate, I suppose. Poor-quality soil, long winters and poor communications means you grow oats (as a staple and for fodder), potatoes and kale, fish the coasts, and raise cattle on the moorlands which you can drive south on the hoof. But no great fields of wheat.

        • Yeah, that’s about right. Especially given Maege Mormont’s actions during the scouring of the Westerlands, I wouldn’t be surprised at all that moving large herds of very shaggy cattle is a big part of Northern agriculture.

  15. hertolo says:

    Your thoughts on family traits are interesting, but more from a point of view of literary intent by the author. In another sense, it reminds me too much of a debate on ‘nature vs. nurture’ and there’s some questions open there. For example, if Jon Arryn instilled the sense of honour into Ned Stark, he was preciously ineffective on Robert Baratheon, no? So yes, there are some trends in traits visible, but there’s the more ‘sombre’ Starkness as well (Ned being a rather quiet person, Bran the Builder, “Winter is coming”) and they are their own people in the end as well (everybody’s unique ;)).

    These ‘personality types’ we see in the families – and the economic questions of war mobilization as well – belong to me to they literary themes. The series after all is fiction and supposed to tell a good story rather than a study on ‘real-world-like cause and effects’. Not sure if I put that thought into good terms though…

  16. Sokket says:

    So I’m sitting here re-reading AFFC and I just finished Brienne V (the one where Septon Maribald explains PTSD), and for the 10th-ish time through this re-read, I’m interested to read your Chapter Analysis on it.

    Just reading your blog makes the re-reads a lot more informative because I am looking at them in light of the politics of the situation. Thanks for that.

    • Hey, thank you. That chapter is one that I’m really looking forward to. May take some time to get there, but I will eventually…

      • Sokket says:

        I was thinking the same thing, but it will be worth the wait. There’s so much political gold in AFFC. Practically every Cersei and Brienne chapter just drips with it.

        I’m also interested to read your historical perspective on Venice re: Braavos. At the same time, have you ever read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series? Her fantasy is also based in an Earthlike world, and I’ve been enjoying comparing her version of Venice (La Serenissima) with Braavos in Arya’s AFFC chapters.

  17. Tom says:

    Just wanted to say that for all the essays out there, I find yours the most fascinating and informative. I check back here at least once a week, so keep them coming 🙂

  18. lann says:

    Well Rickon seems to be an example of the Stark family traits you describe. And to a lesser extent Arya. The others are more Tully.

  19. Brian says:


    Speaking as a political science major with an inordinate fascination with history and this series, thank you for writing this series. I do actually have one question (sorry if I overlooked the answer elsewhere).

    How much do you think Rickon’s going feral comes from his bond with Shaggydog, and going on that, do you think Sansa’s assertiveness in the next chapter might stem from her bond with Lady?

    Just was wondering that while reading the summary.

    • You’re very welcome.

      Well, I’m going to discuss this in more detail in ACOK, but Jojen describes it as a mutual feedback loop; Rickon is enraged and terrified as these sudden existential changes to his life that happen without seeming cause or warning – and Shaggydog picks up on his anger and fear, which is why it’s such a wilder wolf than its kin. At the same time, Rickon is so young that he doesn’t know how to deal with the feedback from his wolf, so he begins acting more like Shaggydog. And so on.

      As for Sansa, I think that bond was lost when Lady died. Not that she couldn’t form a new bond…

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah, there’s a theory going around the boards, that based on all the bird imagery surrounding Sansa, she could start warging some feathered friends…

  20. Jim B says:

    “why the Three-Eyed Crow chooses to intervene in the political side of things, given that he acts to ensure that Bran doesn’t remember what he saw in the tower ”

    Is this a commonly-accepted theory? It had never really occurred to me before, though I do tend to skim through Bran chapters. It would be nice to have some plot-based explanation for Bran’s otherwise incredibly convenient amnesia.

    • The convenience can be over-stated, though. By ADWD, Bran still doesn’t remember and there’s not a whole lot of people who would remember or care what happened at that tower in Winterfell.

  21. Tim Wolfe says:

    I can understand your not caring for this chapter, since you are focused on plot, politics, and historical parallels — analyses that I must say you do exceptionally well, and which I find fascinating and informative. Thank you for all your work and expertise!

    So I hope you won’t take it amiss that I think you’re missing the underlying literary intent of this chapter; it took me some pondering to put my fingering on it too, during a re-read. It’s a twisty commentary, I think, on what we expect from fantasy, and what we should expect from this one.

    On the surface, of course, it’s an “info dump” as you put it: about the crypts of WF and then a complete prehistory of Westeros, with all sorts of information that will become essential in the books to come about the Children, the First Men, the Old Gods, and so on. But why should we care about it at this moment? As first time readers, we just came off Arya’s almost-witnessing of Ned’s beheading, the supposed hero of this book. We’re reeling in shock, maybe even in denial that it really happened — that’s not how these stories work, is it?

    But while it seems disjointed to be thrown from that into Luwin’s lecture, consider the contrast between him and Osha here. She provides the voice of fantasy, telling the boys they can believe in those tales they love, where the Children and giants still live. Luwin is the voice of reality: those stories you’re used to just aren’t the truth! It’s a comment to the first-time reader still in shock over Ned’s death: I know you want to hear the comfortable stories again, but that’s just not reality.

    Of course, Martin isn’t so shallow as to stick to a simple allegory. As we will learn, Osha is right: those magical beings still exist. And Luwin is the one arguing that Ned is not dead, that was just a dream the boys had, and “dreams are just dreams.” But this isn’t to say that the voice of reality is in fact wrong after all. but it does mean that beyond the terrible reality of *this* story, there is yet another reality… a magic one, well hidden, and perhaps more terrible still.

    On a superficial level, Martin is telling us about prehistory. On a literary level, he’s telling us this is a story where bad things will happen like they do in real life. Yet beyond that, he’s hinting at the true magic and fantasy that will be revealed, if we are willing to accept the completely new terms (for the genre) he is setting out for this series, and stick with him.

  22. Scott Trotter says:

    According to the Bard’s timeline, Ned dies on Dec. 23, and word of his death arrives at Winterfell via raven on Jan. 2. That’s a span of 10 days, and assuming that the raven was dispatched within a day of the execution, it means that the raven covered about 120-140 miles per day. This seems reasonably consistent with what I’ve read about the travel speeds of migrating birds. However, in this case the raven was apparently attacked by a hawk or something similar, so it may have taken a day or two to rest and recuperate. If so, that would boost it’s speed to somewhere in the 150-170 miles per day range. Again, that is consistent with what I’ve read.

    The thing that puzzles me is the timing of Bran and Rickon’s dreams. When I first read it, I assumed that the boys had their dreams on the night that Eddard died, and that the raven had rocketed up to Winterfell non-stop at 60 MPH. That’s clearly not the case, but why would they have the dream on the 9th day following their father’s death? And if it is Bloodraven who was responsible for the dreams, how did *he* find out?

  23. […] and we have evidence for it being agreed to and enforced (the Isle of Faces and the Green Men, the obsidian arrowheads, etc.). There’s evidence that the Children and humanity continued to interact in a friendly […]

  24. […] origin. Lann’s distinctive hair color suggests Andal heritage – after all, we’ve known since AGOT that the Andals were “a race of tall, fair-haired warriors.” On the other hand, as the scholars […]

  25. Brad says:

    I find the dream sequences involving Winterfell’s crypts interesting for a different reason. Winterfell is described like a living thing, with warm water (blood) running through its stone walls, and the idea that life will come forth from the stone extends to the crypts as well. We know that wights are a reality in the North; I think Martin may be foreshadowing the magical rise from the dead of the ancient kings of winter. I wonder whose side they will take.

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