“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.