Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Bran I

“It made Bran feel queer when they called him prince, though he was Robb’s heir, and Robb was King in the North now. He turned his head to howl at the guard. “Oooooooo. Oo-oo-ooooooooooo.”

SynopsisBran Stark, Prince of Winterfell, is out of sorts – he’s been having wolf dreams, he can’t get a straight answer on the comet, he doesn’t like Big Walder and Little Walder, and the direwolves have been locked on. So he acts like a little brat and gets drugged to sleep…and then dreams about wolves again.

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:

On Tower of the Hand’s rankings of A Clash of Kings chapters, Bran’s storyline is one up from dead last, which I find interesting because I’d say his Clash of Kings material is a noted improvement from his plot in A Game of Thrones. Even in this short chapter, which has Bran acting as a rather annoying brat with a wolf obsession and some wolf-dreams where nothing happens, there’s some fascinating material to work with.

The Mystical

Once again, the mystical arrives in the form of the comet, where people in Winterfell are likewise divided about the comet’s meaning. Septon Chayle and Maester Luwin, like Maester Cressen, believe the comet is a natural phenomenon, arguing that the wolves are “howling at the comet” because “they think it is the moon,” and that the comet is only the “sword that slays the season.” People who insist on scientific explanations for the seasons and other ASOIAF phenomena should note that, in the text, the scientific explanation is explicitly called out as incorrectHowever, because Winterfell is of the North, it has more of a connection back to the Old Way, and thus Old Nan is on hand to take the prize for spot-on prediction that the comet signifies “dragons…it be dragons, boy.”

Moreover, Osha is on hand to provide the additional info from further North that the wolves are howling at the comet for important reasons: “Your wolves have more wit than your maester…they know truths the grey man has forgotten,” although she’s a bit more enigmatic about the comet significance: “blood and fire, boy and nothing sweet.” (Where did a wildlings learn the Targaryen words?) The role of the wolves in the mystical meta-narrative is often a bit vague, but always significant. Here, the wolves are clearly responding to something important about the comet (given the story of Azor Ahai, the comet doesn’t just signify the dragons, but also their opposite), and sufficient intelligence to try to communicate to Bran: “They are talking to me, brother to brother, he told himself when the direwolves howled. He could almost understand them…as if they were singing in a language he had once known and somehow forgotten.”

Sometimes, people tend to assume that the “wolf blood” of the Starks refers to warging, and that warging only involves the psychic possession of animals – but I doubt it. The signs all point to the source of the Starks’ wolf blood coming from Bran the Builder, and given that he was almost certainly the Last Hero and Azor Ahai, and that his magic clearly extended far beyond warging if he built the Wall and Storm’s End (both structures which have magical protections in addition to their physical fortifications). It’s quite possible that “speaking the many tongues of the animals of the forest” is also in their repertoire.

Certainly Bran’s magical heritage goes beyond wolf-dreams: “Do trees dream?” “They do…they dream tree dreams. I dream of a tree sometimes. A weirwood, like the one in the godswood. It calls to me.” On the one hand, this is likely Bloodraven in his more rustic appearance, trying to get through on the weirwoodnet. On the other hand, it could also be a time-travelling Bran trying to communicate with himself as well as foreshadowing that he’s going to end up as a greenseer as well as a warg. Certainly, that’s Osha’s opinion: “Is it the wolf dreams again?…you should not fight so hard, boy. I see you talking to the heart tree. Might be the gods are trying to talk back.”

The Political

On the political side of things, I have to admit that the young Walders are a beautiful little gem that I completely missed on the first few re-reads through A Song of Ice and Fire. While initially I shared Bran’s irritation with them, on closer inspection Big Walder and Little Walder are a perfect synecdoche for their poisonous clan, and surprisingly important. “Sharp-faced and skinny and half a foot shorter,” Big Walder represents the weaselly side of the Frey, their gift for deceit and stealthy murder. He’s the one with the succession lines of the vast Frey clan mapped out in his head and an eye on the prize: “We’re cousins, not brothers,” added Big Walder, the little one….”he’s ahead of me in the line of succession even though I’m older.” “Only by fifty two days,” Little Walder objected. “And neither of us will ever hold the Twins, stupid.” “I will,” Big Walder declared.” And of course, he’s the one who murders his cousin in Winterfell and throws the suspicion on the Manderlys – his grandfather would be proud. “Tall and stout, with a red face and a big round belly,” Little Walder, by contrast, represents the bullying, sadistic side of the Freys that explains why they haven’t been turfed out of their Twin before. He’s the one who takes to being Ramsay’s squire (and what a testament to moral character that is), and he’s the one who always wins the game.

I really can’t believe I missed the game – such a sneaky little piece of foreshadowing:

“The game was played with a log, a staff, a body of water, and a great deal of shouting…the way their game was played, you laid the log across the water, and one player stood in the middle with the stick. He was the lord of the crossing…and the other player had to make up a speech about who they were and why they should be allowed to cross. The lord could make them swear oaths and answer questions. They didn’t have to tell the truth, but the oaths were binding unless they said “Mayhaps,” so the trick was to say “Mayhaps” so the lord of the crossing didn’t notice. Then you could try and knock the lord into the water and you go to be lord of the crossing, but only if you’d said “Mayhaps.” 

This is a game about treachery, deceit, the making and breaking of oaths, and ruthlessly abusing the family’s chokehold on the Green Fork of the Twins. It’s a game that Walder Frey was raised on – did you think his “mayhaps” was an accident? – and it trains Freys from childhood on to be liars, abusers and manipulators of oaths, and to see the world in the grimmest of Machiavellian terms of victors and victims. No wonder why Big and Little Walders are tiny sociopaths who speak of their family members only in terms of obstacles or dangers .

In other words – it’s the Red Wedding writ small, a book and a half ahead of schedule. GRRM, you sneaky so-and-so.

Historical Analysis:

Normally, I’d talk here about fostering as a custom in medieval Europe, but I already did that – so if you’re interested in fostering, you can read that entry here. Instead, I want to talk a bit about the legend of Bran the Blessed, who I briefly mentioned here.

In Welsh mythology, Bran the Blessed (Brân Fendigaidd, or “the blessed raven”) is both a giant (a nod to the giants who built the Wall) and the High King of Prydain (or Britain, depending on your spelling). In the story, the King of Ireland travels to Wales to meet with Bran in his castle of Harlech, in order to make a marriage alliance between Bran’s sister Branwen and himself and unite the two kingdoms (shades of Sansa and Joffrey there). However, the King of Ireland is insulted by Bran’s half-brother, and when he takes Branwen back to Ireland, he mistreats her so badly that she sends a letter across the sea to her brother to come rescue her.

Bran assembles an army to rescue his sister, but the Irish meet him with an offer of peace. Inside the hall where the two sides are to feast and discuss peace, the Irish hide warriors in sacks of flour who burst out and attack Bran’s men, aided by the magical cauldron Bran had given them that revives the dead (which many consider to be the origin of the Holy Grail’s supposed power to heal the wounded and bring the dead back to life). With the cauldron destroyed, Bran cannot be healed and yet cannot die – so he has his head removed from his body and returned to Harlech.

There, the head of Bran the Blessed continues to live, separate from the body, speaking prophecies that always come true and seemingly preserving everything around him from the passage of time. Eventually, Bran the Blessed instructs them to take his head and bury it beneath the White Hill (believed to be the spot where the Tower of London sits), facing the Channel. In this place, Bran’s mystic presence will eternally safeguard Britain from foreign invasion, as long as it is not disturbed.

I’ve already mentioned the parallels to Grail legends about the Fisher King, but it’s pretty clear that GRRM was attracted to the name and the legend of Bran as a source of inspiration – a King with mystic powers, a brother who goes to war for his sister and is struck down in a feasting hall under flag of truce, a King who sacrifices himself to save his family, the idea of a sacred place which safeguards against invasion.

What if?

I don’t really have any hypotheticals here, but I have a bunch for next week. So stay tuned!

Book vs. Show:

Outside of Bran’s interactions with Osha, the show cuts out this chapter completely, especially the Frey boys (who are mentioned in Season 1, but who never appear thereafter). Ultimately, narrative economy seems to have prevailed here, eliminating two background characters who are interesting thematically, but would chew up valuable screen-time.


157 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Bran I

  1. Julian says:

    *puts on tinfoil hat*

    Bran the Builder built the wall. Do you think modern Bran might be the one to destroy it? If the dragons become uncontrollably destructive, maybe Bran needs to bring down the wall so that the White Walkers and the dragons can wipe each other out. Like at the end of Jurassic Park when the T. Rex inadvertently saves everyone from the velociraptors.

    • No, I don’t think he will. If the Wall goes down, I’m thinking it’s the horn and/or the magic of the Wall failing due to Bowen Marsh’s treason.

      • Winnie says:

        Agreed. I do think Bran might warg dragons in the future, though.

        • Jim B says:

          I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but the “three heads of the dragon” could easily be Bran and Jon warging into dragons and Dany riding the third.

          • Winnie says:

            I’m increasingly leaning toward that theory, though, I think Jon would actually *ride* a dragon rather than ward it.

          • My money’s on Dany, Jon, Tyrion.

          • Andrew says:

            Same here.

            I would also add Victarion and Arianne riding Rhaegal at some point.

          • Jim B says:

            Steven: That seems to be where the smart money is at.

            Personally, I think GRRM is going to leave many of the prophecies open to interpretation. I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as three people riding (or warging) three dragons into battle. I think there’s going to be various battles, heroic actions, maybe even a negotiation, and at the conclusion of the series we’ll all STILL be arguing about who the “three heads of the dragon” were.

            I’m also not sure that we’ll get a clear answer to who Azor Ahai is, or if he even exists.

  2. Winnie says:

    Great breakdown Steve! I really love your re-counting of the tale of Bran the Blessed, (and oh the parallel’s there are downright eerie,) and how that seems to foreshadow that our Bran, (also wounded in body) might meld with the earth to become an eternal protector as well.

    Fascinating to see how the Big Walder and Little Walder were being depicted as sociopaths in making even then-and again that seems to indicate Walder Senior would have committed the Red Wedding with or without an excuse. What’s scary is I’ve been on other forums where I’ve heard people *defend* the Frey’s-some of them I think are straight up trolling, but I think some people are actually *sincere* in their purported admiration of that atrocity-not just against Robb mind you, but at almost every other family in the Riverlands and North, not to mention thousands of Northern soldiers. And yeah, it does set up Big Walder killing Little Walder, and the Twins Civil War that’s already broken out.

    OT, but I really like Natalie Tena as Osha, and her interactions with Isaac as Bran in Season 2, I thought were quite well done.

    • Well, as I’ve said in my Catelyn recaps, he absolutely would have done it regardless – Robb gave him an excuse, that’s all.

      • Amestria says:

        I’m rather curious as to what you’d make of Matthew Yglesias’s quasi-defense of the Red Wedding:

        • Winnie says:

          Matthew Yglesias clearly doesn’t get guest right, (or that arranged marriages were known to be canceled before-it was considered a slight and sometimes unwise but it was nowhere near as taboo or destabilizing as violating guest right, or promising to defend a city and then sacking it,) and I would also note Yglesias once wrote a quasi-defense of the factory owners in Bangladesh whose building collapsed on all the workers inside. I think sometimes the man’s being contrary on purpose or just straight up trolling.

          • Tom says:

            I dunno, his explanation of the red wedding was just that, an explanation. He makes it pretty clear throughout he’s not really defending it.

        • jefff says:

          It just seems like this is a weird transposition of a Cold War thought problem (which has all sorts of 20th century mental infrastructure to back it up like “governments are legitimated by existing, and can do what they want, when they want” or “I am a liberal individual actor”) to a situation where the long-term social implications of murdering your patrons are much more destabilizing than salaried RAND employees imagined “fuck you, buddy” would be while they drank, I dunno, some Manhattans or something.

          • Winnie says:

            Well Said!

            Kinda annoys me the way Tywin’s “Why is it better to kill 10 thousand men on the battlefield rather than a dozen at dinner?” when that is NOT the way it worked in practice at ALL.

          • Exactly. Tywin had thousands and thousands of people murdered at the Red Wedding and the events leading up to it. This is not a precision assassination in the least.

        • Well, that’s bullshit. Betrothals can be broken. It’s a big deal, but it’s not worse than killing your guests and your king and taking your liege lord prisoner.

          • Winnie says:

            Not to mention that for god’s sakes part of the Frey agreement with the Lannister’s involved a broken betrothal-Stafford was in negotiations for Desmera Redwyne when Tywin promised him to a Frey girl without asking him first.

            Breaking an engagement is problematic-but it’s absolutely NOTHING compared to violating Guest Right, killing all your neighbors, and taking your liege lord prisoner.

          • Excellent point, good find there.

          • John says:

            And surely marrying Edmure off to a Frey and then sitting around and smiling while Walder Frey acts like a complete asshole to you over the course of several days goes a long way towards making up for the insult of the broken engagement.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I think that’s a little unfair to Lord Walder; I won’t seek to defend his actions, but at the very least I think House Frey would have needed a REASON as well as an excuse – said reason being that House Stark no longer looks like a winner and that House Frey therefore needs to prove it’s loyalty (better yet they need to prove integral to the final victory of House Lannister and therefore indispensable).

        I’d argue that not all Freys are sociopaths, but that far too many of them are utterly solipsistic and all of them are HUNGRY (given the sheer volume of competition for the fruits in that particular family tree).

        I’m not denying that the Freys are frequently horrible, I’m just taking the stance that it’s more selfish realpolitik fostered in an extremely un-nurturing family environment than it is inherent monstrousness (The Red Wedding is also monstrously short-sighted, but I think we all knew that going in).

        I’m not actually sure that the above needed to be said, but I thought it should be; I don’t have much sympathy for the Freys, but Machiavellian politicking is a survival skill when you hold a major strategic choke-point (and therefore have to worry about much bigger, hungrier neighbours trampling over you in their eagerness to be at one another).

        • Winnie says:

          I agree it’s less sheer sadism and bloodthirsty (a la the Bolton’s) with the Frey’s than it is weasel-dom. And while I don’t find the Frey’s as repellent as Ramsay, (who is?) or even as chilling as Roose (again who is?) I still have a pretty visceral reaction to them. I might understand the origins of their behavior, (the way you understand the evolutionary imperatives driving weasels) but I don’t like them any better for it.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            That seems fair enough and I must admit that I would not care to marry into the current generation of House Frey – I’m not sure very many others would either, a less than positive long-term consequence of the Red Wedding (I’d make a joke about Freys not having to worry too much give their superfluity of cousins, but that may be just a little TOO below-the-belt).

            I do hope that we will at some point be given an opportunity to compare previous generations of House Frey with the current colony – along with the Great Houses of course, but hopefully the non-aristoractic portions of the population as well – something I hope we shall be in a position to do after the publication of ‘The World of Ice and Fire’ and suspect that we shall certainly be able to do if ‘Fire and Blood’ reaches publication.

        • It is selfish realpolitik, but that doesn’t justify it any more than it does with the Boltons.

          It’s not that I think they’re sociopaths, rather that they’ve been brought up in a household that doesn’t value people at all.

          • Abbey Battle says:

            I’d argue that it doesn’t value INDIVIDUALS, but that might be a minor quibble at best – I also agree that the Red Wedding is a thoroughly wicked piece of work (and as I’ve noted short-sighted in the extreme – if you write your family name into the History books in letters of blood and grease on behalf of a Royal House, you had better hope that lineage does not crumble in the end).

            Out of curiosity Maester Steven, do you think House Frey would have been better off announcing it’s departure from The Kingdom of the North and the Trident by closing it’s gates against the King in the North as he marched to claim his own?

      • Winnie says:

        If Robb had already been married but still slept with Jeyne it would be because Robb committed adultery, (beyond hypocritical from a man with so many bastards but he wouldn’t care.) If Robb wasn’t already married when he slept with, (but didn’t marry Jeyne) or if the situation with Jeyne hadn’t even come up, it would have been because he Walder finally recognized that Joffrey was the one true King and that by proclaiming himself King in the North, Robb was a traitor. After the Tyrell/Lannister coalition was formed Walder was *desperate* for a way out…irony is that contrary to whatever Walder thought, the Lannister dynasty was, (for a lot of complicated internal reasons) doomed and turning cloak in such a dramatic and horrific manner, just ensured he’d go down with the ship. Still can’t figure out how they didn’t foresee Tywin’s promises of protection might not be worth much-especially if Tywin *died*.

        • Jim B says:

          I think they assumed they wouldn’t need much protection.

          It was not unreasonable to expect the Red Wedding to be the coup de grace for House Stark — with Winterfell already in ruins, crushing Robb’s army means there’s essentially no Stark military presence to speak of, and killing off Robb means the (presumed) head of the house is Sansa, who is under Lannister control, so there’s no likely candidate to raise a new army under the Stark banner.

          Sure, some of the other Northern lords may hate the Freys for their betrayal, but they’re going to have their hands full dealing with House Bolton and the Ironborn.

          Likewise, without their Stark allies, and with the Tyrells and Lannisters united, the Tullys aren’t even in position to hold on to Riverrun, let alone threaten the Twins.

          Even now it’s not at all clear that House Frey is any danger in the broad sense. Sure, a few Freys get picked off here and there when they’re away from their power base, but I think Walder would consider that a cheap price to pay, if it’s even a price at all.

          When you add in the threats of the White Walkers and the Targaryen claimants, I’d say the odds are still decent that House Frey remains in control of the Twins at the conclusion of the series — in fact, the only reason I have to doubt it is the possibility that GRRM will give us a “happy ending” in that respect at least.

          • David Hunt says:

            Walder Frey is over 90 years old. When he goes, there’s I expect a major culling as portions of the House eats itself vying for the top spot. However, I don’t expect the winner to lose the Twins regardless of how many Freys die for them to get it.

        • Yep – especially if I’m right about the Riverrun Wedding.

          • Andrew says:

            Lord Walder would be at that wedding as he demonstrated with his treatment of Robb and Cat’s bodies, he is an overproud man who likes to humiliate his enemies. He would be holding a wedding for his kin on the Tully’s castle that now belongs to his son. Although the servants and smallfolk of Riverrun served the Tullys their whole lives, and Emmon doesn’t inspire loyalty. They basically see him getting Riverrun as his reward for the Red Wedding, and would likely help UnCat and possibly the Blackfish with “wedding preparations.”

            They attack would be staged during the bedding like at the Twins with Tom playing “Wolf in the Night” which commemorates Robb’s victory at Oxcross, to signal the attack. The Freys and Lannisters who aren’t cut down would be hanged even Genna’s children and grandchildren while Lord Walder would get special treatment. I think UnCat would first make him apologize like he did Robb, and then he would die screaming.

            “Catelyn would gladly have spitted the querulous old man [Lord Frey] and roasted him over a fire”

            Strongboar noted that the Frey men hanged with crabapples in their mouths were trussed up like pigs. I think Walder will die roasting on a spit like a pig.

          • David Hunt says:

            Andrew, that’s a gruesome scenario, and I can see how it might come about except for one thing. I’m not sure that Walder Frey is going to ever leave the Twins again while he’s alive. He over 90 and described as infirm. I have serious doubts that he’s up to travel these days.

          • I’ve always thought that, given what Walder cares about (his family and the fertility thereof), that the perfect end for him is for all of them to die, leaving him helpless and incapacitated in the Twins.

          • Andrew says:

            He traveled to a tourney to see his progeny joust in and fight in the melee.

          • Andrew says:


            So did Tywin care about his house, yet he died before he got to see his family be fully driven into the ground.

          • I think that’s fair, although arguably he sowed the seeds of its destruction.

          • Andrew says:

            Lord Walder did that literally when he conceived all those Freys. Like House Lannister, House Frey will start crumbling more quickly with the death of the patriarch.

  3. somethinglikealawyer says:

    I think why this chapter is ranked so lowly is a lack of dramatic action. The lowest-ranked chapter is Sansa’s, so I’m willing to believe those who dislike Sansa’s ACOK storyline are the ones who voted it as such. Also, I think Sansa’s other chapters are ranked lower than Bran’s, if I’m not mistaken. I know it’s Bran’s lowest chapter personally.

    I’m curious. Was the cauldron that the Irish used to resurrect their warriors a bastardization of the cauldron of the Dagda? Technically, it’s a misappropriation, the cauldron was able to feed any company until satiation no matter the size, while his cudgel was the one that could restore the slain to life (the business end killed, the handle brought back to life, good if you missed, I guess, which wouldn’t have been hard given the Dagda’s prodigious appetite for wine and whiskey).

    I always viewed Bran’s ‘tree dreams’ comment as his own proto-interpretation before Bloodraven communicates in earnest. The first messages that Bran receives aren’t as clear, and Bran attempts to make sense of them in his own way. As he gains more experience with the transmission of the self (via warging and greendreaming more, seeing out-of-body more), he becomes better and interprets the messages more clearly. Practice makes perfect.

    One of the things I find interesting is that the Lord of the Crossing game encourages infighting to be the Lord of the Crossing. It’s not only breaking the oath and lying and striking through treachery, but that the sneakiest ascends to the Lord of the Crossing. There are exceptions of course, Stevron Frey is sneaky but doesn’t support Frey-on-Frey infighting, and Perwyn and squire Olyvar Frey seems to be perfectly loyal and honorable men, but on the whole, if this sort of game is played during their formative years, it’s no surprise that this is what they value.

    • Winnie says:

      Yeah, one of the most blackly humorous things about the Frey’s is how the deaths of any of their own never faze them, but instead draw the reaction, “one less for me to worry about.” One reason, I think Big Walder was emboldened to kill Little Walder when he did is that while he’s still far FAR behind in the line of succession, the Red Wedding and its aftermath, (including the three Freys ‘lost’ in route from White Harbor) has already put him a good deal closer to the Prize. Apart from all their other dangers this is a family, who will quite literally each other once the Long Winter comes upon them.

    • Sean C. says:

      Lord Walder, at least as Merrett tells it, seems quite averse to intra-family quarrels, though clearly much of the rest of the family has not followed suit. I suppose the comparative scarcity of resources is a factor (it’s impressive that the Twins can even house a family as large as his, and provide all the accoutrements of knighthood to his sons, grandsons, etc.). I imagine that the next Lord of the Crossing is imagining how much money could be saved by turfing all his rivals.

      Not surprising, really, that a lot of them are looking for ways out, or that Walder is trying to find places for fostering, etc., even apart from matters relating to the dignity of the house. The safest Freys by the end of Book 5 are probably the two half-Waynwood kids currently under Lady Anya’s protection in the Vale (I’d be kind of interested in Sansa’s reaction to meeting them, which might happen, seeing as she’s apparently on a mission to seduce another of Waynwood’s wards).

      • Winnie says:

        It’s also notable that Elmer Frey was looking forward to marrying a “Northern Princess,” precisely so he could count on his keep at Winterfell-maybe get a holdfast even, while otherwise it would be the Septon for him. Or how Tytos Lannister’s weakness in marrying Genna to Emmon, basically mean Emmon and all his ostensible heirs were living off Casterly Rock until being granted Riverrun.

        Note that they’re reluctant to release prisoners to Jaime because “those prisoners are valuable”-they’re already planning to use their hostages to extort ransoms and/or marriages.

        I also think that’s a HUGE factor in why so many Frey’s went up North-in retrospect this was obviously the most suicidal move any of them could make, but clearly a number of members of that delegation, were hoping to move in as carpet baggers and insinuate themselves into the Northern nobility via marriages to White Harbor and so forth. One of them may also have had designs on Lady Cerwyn or one of the Mormont women, and I’m sure they were going to try to get other Northern lords to take Frey girls off their hands as well-and send other Frey’s along as chaperones, just as Gatehouse Ami brought a number of her kin along with her to Darry. The vermin were looking for new places to colonize, having outgrown their old den.

        Of course, this combination of greed and stupidity, (did any of these people know ANYTHING about Northerners?!?) got them baked into pies.

        I have to wonder, WHY Walder kept on taking so many wives…I mean I get he’s a lech but after siring a number of true born heirs couldn’t he have just stuck to bedwarmers/concubines?!? Had his bastards all apprenticed out too, for that matter.

        • Crystal says:

          I was just thinking about Emmon Frey and Genna Lannister – the latter made a very poor marriage for a daughter of a Lord Paramount when she married Emmon. Genna said that Walder pushed Tytos hard for that marriage and Tytos gave in. Walder must have smelled a patsy, and jumped at the chance to shuffle Emmon off onto Casterly Rock for his upkeep.

          No doubt Walder was hoping to do the same for Elmar – make him Winterfell’s responsibility.

          It’s interesting that, in the books, more younger sons don’t become septons; in the real Middle Ages, many younger sons of nobility were encouraged to enter the Church. This was a respectable, and often a powerful, living for them. (As well as providing a cushy dead-end make-work job for the likes of Merrett – I think this was the origin of “sinecure.”) Merrett thinks that he’s “not clever enough to be a maester, or pious enough to be a septon,” but I wonder if a handsome bribe could overcome those disabilities?

          • Winnie says:

            “I was just thinking about Emmon Frey and Genna Lannister – the latter made a very poor marriage for a daughter of a Lord Paramount when she married Emmon. Genna said that Walder pushed Tytos hard for that marriage and Tytos gave in. Walder must have smelled a patsy, and jumped at the chance to shuffle Emmon off onto Casterly Rock for his upkeep.

            No doubt Walder was hoping to do the same for Elmar – make him Winterfell’s responsibility.”

            Precisely. That’s what Elmar was hoping for to-thus his excitement to marry a “Northern princess.” It’s also another reason you had TWO Frey’s angling to marry Manderly’s grand-daughters-it would set them up for life in White Harbor. And the fact that Genna’s marrying a second son of Walder’s was looked on as bad joke by the Western nobility just showcases how extortionate Walder’s demand of Arya for his 23rd son and Robb for one of his daughters, (who no doubt would have brought siblings or cousins to live with her too,) really was. And why, getting Edmure Tully as a son in law SHOULD have been a great consolation prize.

            Interestingly, you already see signs of in-fighting between Emmon (who was chomping at the bit to be his father’s overlord,) and the rest of the family who might have use for a half-Frey half Tully heir via Roslin, while to Emmon that would be disastrous. Another reason, I’m worried about Edmure and Roslin.

            OT, but I also just found it hilarious that the Frey’s seemed to think the Red Wedding was going to make them the new Alpha Dogs of Westeros-coming up North and throwing their weight around, (we all know how THAT went,) and Emmon Frey thinking he would be LP of the Riverlands, while Edwyn and other Frey’s try to boss other Riverlords around-until Jaime disabuses all of them of that and makes it clear just how unimportant the Frey’s really are to the Lannister’s-and he Jaime is actually more respectful to the guys who used to be rebelling against the Crown and holding him prisoner. They honestly thought this would earn them the fear and a show of deference by their fellow Riverlords and the Northmen-and of course it just earmarked them as hired thugs and put Bullseyes on their backs. Hard to figure out how they failed to see that coming…

          • Sean C. says:

            One of Frey’s sons, Luceon, was almost High Septon before the intervention of the High Sparrow, but I can’t think of any other instances of a male noble in the series joining the Faith. The Faith in general seems much less powerful and prestigious than was the medieval church; especially notable that there’s so mention of an equivalent to bishops and archbishops. There are septons, then the church leadership (the High Septon and the Most Devout), but there’s no “archbishop of Gulltown” or whatever. Which is odd, really, and is one of the things that really makes me interested in how the Faith operated in the days when there were seven kingdoms in Westeros.

        • Amestria says:

          Another thing about royal marriages (and marrying the lord of a kingdom is the equivalent of a king and a member of his family the equivalent of marrying into a royal family) is that wives will help find important jobs for their family, relations, and friends at court (and wars provide great opportunities for doing this). One need only look to what happened with Robert and Cersei or Daeron II and Myriah. Historically, resentment over Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s relatives played no small part in the political fallout that followed her husband’s death.

          So Lord/King Robb would probably have found himself with more Frey’s in his service then otherwise. With Robb dead, Roose Bolton became lord (going on king) of the North and his wife is a Frey… Perhaps so many moved North because that had been the plan all along – its not like the other Kingdoms were any more hospitable to a Frey migration. The North might be a frozen warzone whose people utterly hate the Frey’s, but the combination of Fat Walda in Winterfell/the Dreadfort and the decimation of the Northern nobility is not to be overlooked. The prospects in the Riverlands aren’t much better. The Lord Paramount is some absentee landlord in the Vale with no Riverland court or Frey connections to speak of. There’s also a lot more family competition and arguably just as much danger (a starving warzone whose people utterly hate the Freys). Lancel Lannister and Amerei Frey’s marriage is unconsummated and apparently heading towards divorce, so there go any opportunities in the capital and Westerlands.

          • Illrede says:

            I have remembered as a “worst slights in history” a widow of Warwick’s family was married to a young Woodville. Which means she went from “congratulations, against all odds you have have achieved total, complete, Agency in class and gender” to “zero”, as a sop to the Woodvilles

            Well, it isn’t as if people didn’t die for it, IFRC.

        • gavinbyrnes says:

          Somebody may have already said this, but Walder Frey in the books never has more than one wife at the same time; his previous ones have just all died.

      • One of them is Sandor Frey, a 12-year-old squire to Donnel Waynwood (who we met way back in AGOT). Crakehall descendant (Little Walder was his first cousin), so probably a big kid, too. I’d say the odds of Sansa meeting him is *really* strong.

        Speaking of other-family traits of the Freys, Alyssa Blackwood’s descendants are interesting. You’ve got Lame Lothar and Big Walder, both remarkably cunning. And considering Hoster Blackwood (of ADWD, history geek) and Bloodraven (no comment necessary), GRRM’s definitely saying *something* about the Blackwoods, isn’t he?

        • Winnie says:

          Not to mention that Tytos Blackwood seems pretty shrewd himself as Jaime noted.

          Sometimes I wonder if Hoster Blackwood might one day meet Sansa Stark through Jamie Lannister or play some other significant role in coming events-after all the Blackwoods are a First Men family, they are one of the most powerful families in the Riverlands, they keep to the Old Gods, and the imagery of Raventree Hall was quite…stirring.

        • Sean C. says:

          I feel bad for Cynthea and Sandor. It must be hard to live in the Vale’s very chivalric honour culture and then wake up one day to find that your family name is mud.

          • Winnie says:

            Well just as Bethany’s kids might want to take their mother’s maiden name of Rosby, I think Cynthea and Sandor might want to start calling themselves Waynwoods.

        • Andrew says:

          To that I’ll add Jonos Bracken is described as having large arms that would make a blacksmith envious, and Otho Bracken was called “Brute” slaying Lord Blackwood with a blunted longaxe that stove in the visor of Blackwood’s helm and Blackwood’s face. He is also saying something about the Brackens

          I think GRRM is portraying the Blackwoods vs Brackens as brain vs brawn.

          • Not unreasonable. I think the main thing is Medieval Hatfields and McCoys, but yeah, I can see that.

            It’s also about assimilation vs. maintaining tradition – both houses are of the First Men, but one converted to the New Gods.

          • Andrew says:

            1) I would also add that the Blackwood bastards Red Robb Rivers and Bloodraven are known for their skill at archery.

            2) The Blackwoods kept the Old Gods when the entire south converted to the Faith including the Brackens, and Blackwood kept on fighting after the RW while Bracken bent the knee and, ever the opportunist, fought them on behalf of the Lannisters for the promise of land. As the ravens roosting in the weirwood even when it is dead suggest, the Blackwoods will keep to a cause or ideal even when it appears to be dead or beyond salvaging.

            3) I think we will see them fighting on opposite sides in the second Dance. Given the blacks’ victory at Stone Hedge, I think the Brackens declared for Aegon II, and it is known in the Blackfyre Rebellions they fought for the Blackfyres. I think Bracken will fight on Aegon’s side in the second Dance. It would be in hopes of reward, and receiving all the other lands he claims as well as getting out of sending his daughter as a hostage to KL. I think the Blackwoods who fought on Rhaenyra’s side the Dance of Dragons and on the Targaryens’ side in the Blackfyre Rebellions will fight on Dany’s side.

            I wouldn’t put it past Aegon to name the first river lord to declare for him, as his liege lord of the Trident, taking a page from Aegon I. Especially, since House Tully, along with having fought on Robert’s side, seems near death with Lord Edmure a prisoner and the only other male relative, the Blackfish, missing and a fugitive. Of course, if Aegon does this then I would see the Blackfish fighting on Dany’s side provided two conditions: Riverrun and dominion over the Trident is restored to Edmure and justice for the RW. The Blackfish would be leading the rest of the riverlords except the Freys.

            If that is the case, then I see Lords Blackwood and Bracken killing each other in battle.

          • Winnie says:

            Very, very interesting theory Andrew. I could definitely see it playing out like that.

            I also think that a marital alliance between the Starks and the Blackwoods, (whether through Sansa or Bethany to Rickon) would make a heckuva lot of sense given the Blackwood’s importance and influence, the fact they keep the Old Gods, and that they too are a First Men family-and one with strategic significance to boot. A Blackwood marriage for Sansa would especially make sense if by some chance she inherits Riverrun. (Though, I earnestly hope that Edmure and/or his child survive there’s definitely some high risks there.)

          • John says:

            More evidence would be Bittersteel as maternally Bracken and a great warrior, in contrast to half-Blackwood Bloodraven.

      • Well, a big part of the Frey’s storyline is that they’re over-extending. Half their strength went into the North, and that’s not coming back. Now they have to hold the Twins, Riverrun, Seagard, Darry, etc. and they’re dropping like lies.

        • Winnie says:

          Yeah…I still can’t get over the fact that they voluntarily sent half of their strength to the *North* of all places. I can understand sending a delegation of some expendable family members, but why risk all those much needed soldiers in such uncertain times?!? I mean even if they weren’t that scared of Stannis, having Southerners trying a war campaign in the North during Winter is always going to be tricky-especially if the Southern troops in question are absolutely loathed by the native Northerners, who will feel it a civic duty to murder you at will.

          • zonaria says:

            >>I still can’t get over the fact that they voluntarily sent half of their strength to the *North* of all places.

            Survival I imagine – if there is a Stark restoration in the North then at some point in the future there will come a deal of some sort between the Starks and the south, and part of the price is surely going to be justice for the Red Wedding.

          • I imagine that Roose insisted as part of his price for going along with it. Moreover, it’s one of the bigger prizes for the Freys – the entire North will one day be ruled over by Fat Walda’s daughter, they hope.

          • John says:

            Fat Walda’s eventually to be born son, I’m sure they hope. They should really be working on assassinating Ramsay, though.

        • Jim B says:

          ” dropping like lies.”

          I see what you did there!

    • Carol says:

      Branwen uerch Lyr has a *lot* of Irish details and borrowings. If you really want to look into it, see Proinsias Mac Cana’s book Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr: a Study of the Irish Affinities and of the Composition of the Second Branch of the Mabinogi.

  4. S. Duff says:

    You can also see how the Freys quell any of their number who go against Frey ideals: Stevron could have made peace with Robb but dies due to mysterious circumstances (when will they find a cure!?), Olyvar was loyal to Robb and so is absent during the wedding along with Alesander and Perwyn – the latter of whom was Roslin’s full sister and thus probably had more reason than the others to oppose the Red Wedding.

    On a side note, we can root for any of these guys to be Lord of the Crossing.

    • Winnie says:

      I was thinking that Roslin’s full siblings may actually be the heirs to Lord Rosby’s estate-I’m not sure there will even *be* a Twins anymore at the end of all this.

      • S. Duff says:

        I really hope that happens. Everyone wants to see all the Freys dead but I want these guys to live. Rosby seems like a safe place (for now).

        • Chad says:

          Rosby might not be that safe for much longer. I suspect that something interesting but in the background will happen around Rosby with the different claimants. Also the maester is a “rivers” from the Frey.

          Though any ideas on who the ward might be? They prevented Falyse Stokeworth from staying the night. Maybe one of Roberts offspring to have a suddenly robust and troublesome Lord replace the too sickly to run and too craven to fight Rosby and stir things up around King’s Landing.

      • Sean C. says:

        The Freys have a million little family connections. It seems like they vacuum up what must be the distant cadet branches of various houses (I can’t imagine that the only son of Lord Walder’s sixth son would have merited a Royce who was remotely proximate to the leaders of either the senior or junior branches, for instance). They’ve got a Caron who should theoretically have inherited Nightsong, but since the Freys were still on the “wrong” side at that point, there was no way to press that claim.

        • Winnie says:

          Yet another reason the demand for not one but TWO Starks to marry was so outrageous. Not to mention Lord Bolton as well…

          • Sean C. says:

            One thing I realized when looking over the the Frey family tree recently is that at the start of the series, Lord Walder and his descendants made marriages with houses from everywhere in Westeros except the North, Dorne, and the Iron Islands. The Iron Islands are isolationists that nobody likes and Dorne is far away (though there are Frey brides from as far south as Honeyholt and Stonehelm), but considering that the Freys are basically your last pit-stop before the Neck, it’s notable that they had no connections with the Northern nobility at all prior to the abortive match with Robb and Arya and then the actual match with Bolton.

          • Winnie says:

            Good point Sean C., (though I notice there was a Frey bride from Braavos as well.)

            Maybe the fact that the Frey’s don’t follow the Old Gods was a sticking point…or perhaps their legendary feud with the Crannogmen and Reed’s played a role.

          • John says:

            There’s northern lords who follow the Seven, though. The Manderlys obviously, but also apparently the Tallharts (Ser Helman). And Jeor and Jorah Mormont also seem to be followers of the Seven, although this is not true of Maege and her daughters.

        • Crystal says:

          I sometimes wonder if the Twins are the last stop for otherwise unmarriageable women. “You can marry a Frey or you can be a septa…”

          • Winnie says:

            Ha! That actually sounds plausible-hell, the poor Westerling girls being from such an impoverished House might well have been stuck with the likes of Black Walder or such if Robb hadn’t come to the Crag.

            Of course now as was noted, its lucky for them they have so many cousins to wed amongst themselves since nobody in the Seven Kingdoms will marry them now-except poor Stafford and Martyn at the Red Wedding 2.0…

          • And they’re still ableist assholes mean about it! Even though they’re basically the “last resort,” they rejected Tyrion maybe Shireeen (I might be remembering that wrong), like assholes even though the heiress to Dragonstone (not to mention the King’s niece) and the potential heir to Casterley Rock were AMAZING matches for them. This was probably best for them in the long run, but sheesh…

          • John says:

            Daven, Stafford’s son. Stafford was killed at the Ox Cross.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree, I would like to see Perwyn and Olyvar Frey become the Rosbys. It will make life a lot easier on them, Ditto if Roslin and her child survive the birth; I can’t see the Riverlords wanting anything to do with any Freys ever, but they might be OK with Roslin Tully nee *Rosby*.

        IIRC, Alesander Frey is the son of a pie (Symond),and his mother is from Braavos. If he has any sense, he’ll skedaddle to Braavos and become the musician/kept man to a courtesan and forget he ever was a Frey. (It is interesting that Alesander didn’t want any part of the RW, but his father was up to his ears in the “family business” so to speak.)

        • Winnie says:

          Frankly, I think think a LOT of Frey’s if they had any sense would flee Westeros right about now. (For that matter it might be a smart move for almost anyone else who has the means and opportunity to do so.) Winter is Coming, and surviving that would be hard enough even if you weren’t from an absolutely HATED Household. Certainly can’t count on any help from the neighbors in the hard times ahead-and I don’t think the current advantages of being a Frey (ownership of Riverrun or the Twins) are gonna last too long.

    • Sean C. says:

      GRRM’s depictions of house characteristics always straddle the line between nature and nurture so much that I’ve never decided whether we’re supposed think the Rosby DNA just overwhelmed the Frey DNA in a majority of the cases or whether Bethany was just a better mother. Of the five children of that union, Perwyn, Olyvar and Roslin are all nice people; Benfrey was more like the rest of the family and got killed at the Red Wedding; jury’s out on Maester Willamen, the other one, though he’s hanging around Longbow Hall, sight of at least one recent murder and possible sight of another, so who knows what he might be up to there?

      • Sean C. says:

        “Site”, that should be.

      • S. Duff says:

        I’m with you there, but I think GRRM leans towards nurture. Walder seemed to put all his effort into his first son, Stevron, leaving the rest to be raised by the family as a while – anyone who has a large family can relate.

        Bethany Rosby probably took a more hands-on approach.

      • Winnie says:

        Could have been a bit of both-Bethany supplied superior genes AND may have been a good maternal influence as well.

        • S. Duff says:

          On the one hand, Catelyn says Rosbys are not known for their robustness. On the other, Gyles Rosby, for all his illness, is shrewd enough to suggest getting rid of Littlefinger’s customs agents (Cersei, of course, shoots him down). So maybe there’s a bit of that in them.

          • Sean C. says:

            The idea of a noble house whose signature trait is not being especially healthy has always amused me.

          • Winnie says:

            I think the Rosby’s may be bright people, (whatever Willaemen’s character is the fact that he’s a Maester suggest some capacity,) just not too healthy. They are perhaps more vulnerable to pulmonary ailments or simply have weaker immune systems.

      • WPA says:

        I wonder if it’s just an issue similar to IRL – any very large family of decent people will have a few rogues or straight-up messes in it (law of averages and all): well, an enormous family of back-stabbing, scheming degenerates like the Freys will produce a few completely decent people who are decent role models to their own kids, just by sheer chance. I mean even the Boltons appear capable of producing non-sociopath family members from time to time.

        As for the new Westerosi pastime of Frey-killing- I think the intermarriage of the Freys into so many families on so many sides means someone’s going to be left to inherit with some spares. I mean maybe the main clusters at the Twins and Riverrun will have a rough go of it, but someone will be around.

        • Winnie says:

          Again, though, that’s assuming the Twins will even be around to inherit. I’m not at all sure of that.

          I definitely feel the main branches of the Frey’s at Riverrun, the Twins, and any of them holed up at Darry are all doomed for sure.

          Because of Frey brides to other families, even if the Twins do survive it’s entirely possible the next Lord of the Crossing won’t carry the cursed name of Frey.

          • Crystal says:

            I wonder if it would be possible to make the Crossing a crown property? Garrison the Twins, staff them with toll collectors, but have the revenue go to the Crown? That is, if there’s a Crown by the time the story ends!

            It would provide revenue and get rid of a potentially dangerous nuisance (Freys). I do not know how feasible that would be, however. And what would happen to the Houses who are subject to the Twins? I suppose they would be like the Crownlands noble houses, directly sworn to the Crown instead of, say, the Tullys.

          • Winnie says:

            The Twins could end up being confiscated by whoever holds the Throne at the end, (assuming the Twins are still standing,) or their value might be depleted by the addition of another bridge-or just encouraging some local ferry business in the area independent of whoever holds the Twins.

            I do think it’s entirely possible that we might get a *third* branch of House Vance though, to hold the Crossing.

        • ajay says:

          “I mean even the Boltons appear capable of producing non-sociopath family members from time to time.”

          Unless I am forgetting something here, we have seen exactly two Boltons in the entire course of the series (Boltons by marriage aside) and they are both complete horrors. I suppose Domeric might have been nice, but we only have Roose’s word for it.

          • Crystal says:

            FWIW, Domeric squired for Horton Redfort in the Vale. I find it interesting that someone like Roose Bolton wanted his son to go south for fostering – yes, Ned was fostered in the Vale, and yes, there seems to be a strong link between the North and the Vale; I think it goes to show that the North wasn’t necessarily as isolationist as we might think.

            Considering the standard of behavior expected in the Vale (except for Lyn Corbray, perhaps), Domeric must have learned to keep any psychopathy on the down-low and present at least the appearance of manners.

            Whatever Domeric was really like, it’s nice to think that there was a Bolton who was a decent person.

  5. Julian Patel says:

    I knew that Big Walder was a popular suspect for Small Walder’s murder, but I didn’t think it was a near certain thing in the fandom.

    The Bran the Blessed story reminded me of a children’s fantasy series I read long ago. I can’t remember any of the name (except that they sounder Welsh) but I remember the cauldron. And also that the hero was a pig-keeper.

    I have to say that I break with the majority opinion in that I like the Bran (and to a lesser extent the Jon) chapters far far better than any others. The fantasy elements, specifically the northern fantasy elements, appeal to me much more than the political intrigues that this series is generally praised for.

  6. Carol says:

    “Bran sacrifices himself by leaping inside the cauldron and destroying it from the inside.”

    No, he doesn’t. Efnissyen, one of Bendigeituran (Bran) and Branwen’s half-brothers and the person who was responsible for starting the chaos — he was angry because he thought he should be consulted about the marriage, so he disfigured the horses of the Irish king, who then took his anger out on Branwen — repents and destroys the cauldron to make up for his action: he crept among the dead bodies of some Irishmen and, after being tossed into the cauldron by a couple of “bare-bottomed” Irishmen, he stretched himself until he broke it and his heart. Bendigeituran was stabbed in the foot with a poisoned spear.

    • Huh. In the version I just read, it was Bran who jumped inside.

      • Carol says:

        What did you read? I translated it last year from Ifor Williams’ edition, and just double-checked the transcriptions from both Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch and Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch.

        Ac yna pan welas Efnissyen y calaned heb enni yn un lle o wyr Ynys y Kedyrn, y dywot yn y uedwl, “Oy a Duw,” heb ef, “guae ui uy mot yn achaws y’r wydwic honn o wyr Ynys y Kedyrn; a meuyl ymi,” heb ef, “ony cheissaf i waret rac hynn.” Ac ymedyryaw ymlith calaned y Gwydyl, a dyuot deu Wydel uonllwm idaw, a’y uwrw yn y peir yn rith Gwydel. Emystynnu idaw ynteu yn y peir, yny dyrr y peir yn pedwar dryll, ac yny dyrr y galon ynteu. […] Ny bu oruot o hynny eithyr diang seithwyr, a brathu Bendigeiduran yn y troet a guenwynwaew.

  7. Tom says:

    I think it’s a little unfair to call Bran a brat, considering his situation and age.

    • Maddy says:

      I always think Bran gets a bad rap. His reaction to his disability seems pretty reasonable to me, particularly in such an ableist society, and his attitude as acting ‘lord’ of Winterfell is pretty impressive for such a young boy. I find plenty of the other POVs really interesting to read, but to me the Stark kids are the heart of the series and the characters I am the most invested in. Bran isn’t my favourite storyline but that’s just my own personal bias (and on the reread I definitely appreciate all the worldbuilding and foreshadowing a lot more than I did initially).

      It makes me sad that he gets so sidelined in the show, although it is understandable to some extent.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree with you wrt Bran, and of course Sansa gets the worst of all the bad raps too. Bran and Sansa are kids ffs! They’re going to act like it!

        While I really do wish the Stark kids had been aged up a few years (here is where the show gets it right, I think), some people think they should act like miniature adults. I think Bran is doing really well, considering his age and the society he lives in.

        • Maddy says:

          Arya is just as ‘bratty’ on occasion too. I definitely wish the kids were older in the books too (even just by two years).

    • He’s acting up this chapter, and he knows it.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    Once again Maester Steven, please accept my compliments on your latest article, along with some mild disagreement (but as we both know disagreement is the spice of Academia – if everyone agreed with you … well that would be AWESOME actually, but so boring that the glee would probably pall a bit after a while).

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    For the record I myself believe that Lord Walder’s insistence on siring heir after heir is a point of personal pride – other Lords may boast descent from a great House, other Lords may claim better and wider holdings, but in respect of his innumerable progeny at least Lord Walder Frey of the Twins may boast of his unparalleled pre-eminence.

    Which just goes to prove that the old man’s pride is the worst enemy of his House, even if he seems JUST smart enough to try mitigating the impact of a war of succession that might well make the Wars of the Alexandrian Successors look like a dinner party by comparison.

    • Winnie says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure if the Frey’s status as toll-keepers ensured Machiavellian scheming and plotting among them, (perfectly possible to be a honest decent toll-collector-it ain’t glamorous, but its not inherently an unethical postion) but such an over-abundance of heirs and their upkeep most certainly *did*. As Merrett noted, a lot of Walder’s descendants are looking at homelessness and quite possibly starvation in the event of his death when the next Lord of the Crossing decides to eject all the useless mouths from the Twins for the Winter.

      Too many heirs is just as dangerous as too few…

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Just ask the descendants of Edward the Third, although to their credit it took more than a generation for them to turn on one another like Cannibal Lions – great name for a band that – and special credit should go to the sons of Henry the Fourth (who actually handed the reigns of power to Henry the Sixth after a long majority), although whether Thomas of Clarence would have been so loyal to his brother’s memory as John of Bedford and Humphrey of Gloucester is an interesting question.

        I can never quite decide if Henry the Fifth would have been more angered upon hearing news of Clarence’s fatal folly at the Battle of Bauge or relieved that a potential rival had effectively committed suicide by folly …

    • Yeah. The problem is that he can’t settle them all, and if they divide the estate they’ll cripple its power.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        The classic dilemma of the feudal aristocrat – risk it all on a single heir (who may be no d— use) or spread the risk (and spread your power so thin it barely ranks as prestige).

        It’s almost enough to make you glad that politicians these days might still be able to inherit power (nepotism is alive and well, even if feudalism is out of fashion), but cannot expect to have it passed down to them (at least not in the Western World).

        Influence on the other hand …

  10. Andrew says:

    The Freys rival the Lannisters in terms of most dysfunctional family in Westeros. Merret said one thing Freys learn quickly is never to trust any Freys other than full-blood siblings, and even them not very far. There is little trust between Freys, and they see each other as rivals and obstacles as everyone else has mentioned. I think Perwyn and Olyvar are among the few exceptions. Each Frey is concerned with his own survival, especially with the ever present fear of Walder dying, and that they will find themselves homeless and at risk of starvation when the new Lord of the Crossing wants less mouths to feed. They learn their lessons of family from their patriarch who treats his wives and brood like shit for the most part.

    The omens of the comet don’t fare well according to Osha. Halley’s comet was supposedly seen by William the Conqueror before he launched his invasion of England. Another comet was seen around the time of the First Crusade. Comets are recorded as preceding bloody wars, revolts, plagues, famines, deaths of important political figures, natural disasters and massacres throughout history.

    Dragons and “blood and fire” are both connected to Targaryens, and it was first seen when hatched her dragons in AGoT. So the comet could be taken as a symbol of a Targaryen resurgence and war.

    • I think the Freys are also supposed to be a commentary on feudalism – specifically what happens when family and political power and land become the same things.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      If I recall correctly a great comet may have been sighted in the 1660s, about the time of the Great Fire of London and the Royal Navy’s most humiliating naval defeat (at the hands of the Dutch, along the Medway – a humiliation roughly equivalent to the US Navy being handed it’s head along the Chesapeake, although there was no naval academy of which I am aware in that era of the Gentleman Captain).

      I know we’re not supposed to be superstitious in these rational times, but sometimes your inner caveman has a POINT for pity’s sake!

  11. Gonzalo says:

    I noticed a small mistake in your analysis, when discussing Big Walder, you say: “And of course, he’s the one who murders his brother in Winterfell and throws the suspicion on the Manderlys”. Little Walder is his cousin, not his brother, as stated in the same paragraph.

    Anyways, are you familiar with Bran Vas theory about the murder of Little Walder? I don’t recall the details right now, but back when I checked it, Ramsay made a lot of sense as the assassin. Big Walder is also a suspect, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if he ended up being the Lord of the Twins, he reminds me of Lothar Frey in a sense.

    • Damnit. I was trying to avoid that screwup.

      I definitely think Big Walder did it.

      • Petyr Patter says:

        I like to say, “If you think you have solved a mystery in a Song of Ice and Fire, you simply haven’t thought about it long enough.”

        Big Walder certainly is a top suspect, but there are others. Fat Walda gets a little bit closer to Darry with Little Walder dead. Roose used the death as a catalyst to expel the Freys and the Manderlies from Winterfell to fight Stannis, win or lose Roose benefits. Ramsay is a murderous psychopath. Lady Hornwood wasn’t present when the body was presented, and has her own grievances against Freys and Ramsay. Even as the spearwives deny involvement, Mance Rayder has his agenda and is not above keeping a secret if Little Walder threatened his operation.

        Perhaps we are dealing with an Orient Express situation, where EVERYONE was involved in killing him.

        Bran Vras has a very exhaustive write up about the murder and makes some interesting observations, though he ultimately doesn’t come to any definitive conclusions:

  12. Amestria says:

    “This is a game about treachery, deceit, the making and breaking of oaths, and ruthlessly abusing the family’s chokehold on the Green Fork of the Twins. It’s a game that Walder Frey was raised on – did you think his “mayhaps” was an accident? – and it trains Freys from childhood on to be liars, abusers and manipulators of oaths, and to see the world in the grimmest of Machiavellian terms of victors and victims.”

    It also places a lot of psychological importance in their ability to ruthlessly extract oaths and associates a betrayal at one’s expense with being humiliated and losing one’s place while a betrayal at another’s expense brings only victory and gain. Children being children, and Frey children being Frey children, a loss no doubt entailed being laughed at, insulted, and possibly roughed up by the other players, the loser afterwards picking himself up and doing his very best to get even in future games. Hence every successful “mayhaps” in Lord of the Crossing only encourages the other players to be sneakier and more vicious, so it’s rather self-defeating as it creates a world governed by escalating treachery – mayhaps Cersei Lannister’s Frey relations taught her this game when she was little and she took it to heart 😛

    Anyway, the Frey’s have constructed an alternative value system in their overcrowded stronghold and mayhaps Robb’s broken oath really was significant, as letting someone get a false oath past you in Frey World is akin to carelessness, defeat and being made a fool of, while giving a false oath in payback the natural response and its success a mark of cunning, victory, and triumph. Hence why Walder Frey bothered to tell his family “He shamed us, the whole realm was laughing, we [have] to cleanse the stain on our honor” (ASoS paperback pg 1127) and why almost all of the family goes along with violating one of the biggest taboos in Westeros. Walder is a sociopath with a million petty resentments, so he might have been willing to do it anyway, broken oath or no broken oath, but it seems doubtful that he’d bother justifying it along these lines to his vast family if the broken oath was *just* an excuse. Further evidence of it not being a mere excuse is that only the Frey’s care about the broken oath and their official explanation is a fractured fairy story about the Starks turning themselves into werewolves. Mayhaps the broken oath is an excuse for Walder and a few other Freys, but a real reason for the rest of the family, an appeal they could personally understand. The King of the North had said mayhaps and knocked the Frey’s from their place, and everyone had laughed at them, and now it was time to climb back up and slip in a mayhaps of their own and get their revenge. It also explains why they all get so smug about the damn thing afterwards.

    The world is not a game though and all broken oaths are not equal and a massacre is not a push into the water. Also, it works best if no one knows you’re playing this game and only this game – once the rest of the world starts playing it with you, well, you’re in trouble.

    One question worth asking, could Walder have gotten his family to go along with him even if Robb had kept faith or would his family have gone along with anything he commanded and the broken oath was just used to make his decision go down easier?

    • Winnie says:

      Great breakdown there-definitely makes sense psychologically and does perhaps start to explain the hither to baffling fact that the Frey’s didn’t see the backlash to the RW coming.They simply didn’t understand that the rest of Westeros wasn’tike the Twins but they’re starting to learn-it’s just too late.

      I think Walder could have gotten his family to go along with it anyway, simply by emphasizing the possible rewards to them for the venture; Riverrun, Darry, and all those valuable hostages they’d be taking. It was sheer greed motivating them more than anything else.

      • Amestria says:

        “Great breakdown there”

        Thanks ^_^

        “I think Walder could have gotten his family to go along with it anyway, simply by emphasizing the possible rewards to them for the venture; Riverrun, Darry, and all those valuable hostages they’d be taking. It was sheer greed motivating them more than anything else.”

        So you think economic desperation was the driving force behind it all?

        • Winnie says:

          Put it this way-they may be spiteful and easily offended but first and foremost the Frey’s seem primarily concerned with looking out for themselves and getting ahead.

          THAT is their overriding motive for everything.

    • Roger says:

      Well, don’t try to excuse Robb. His oathbreaking was the primal cause. At this point Roose Bolton was starting to make his movements, but AFAIK he didn’t count with the Freys, still.
      Tyrion Lannister and Catelyn were shocked to see Robb marrying Jeyne. Even Catelyn doesn’t blame the Freys for leaving the king’s army.
      Marriage pacts were very important affairs. In the great cavalry novel “Tirant Lo Blanc”, breaking this oath was a cause of war between to African kingdoms. And even the hero Tirant agreed that the king who lost his bride had good reasons for warring.

      • David Hunt says:

        I disagree. Breaking the engagement was an EXCUSE. The CAUSE was Walder Frey’s need to get back in good with the side that he thought was going to win. If Robb hadn’t married Jeyne Westerling, he’d have come up with some other excuse to betray Robb.

        I seem to remember Catelyn thinking that if Robb was going to fall into some girl’s bed and marry her, why couldn’t it have been Margarey Tyrell. Yes, it was an insult, but if he’d gotten something good for it, very few people would have thought the worse of him for it. Robb & Edmure made concessions to the Freys to pay for the insult. I think Walder Frey would likely have gone along with it, except that he didn’t think that Robb was going to come out on top and was looking for a way to get back in good with King’s Landing, so he arranged to give them Robb Stark’s head.

        Keep in mind that part of the price for Walder’s participation in the Red Wedding was that one of the Lannisters had to break an engagement and marry a Frey, so sacred betrothal promises can’t mean that much to Walder in and of themselves. Also keep in mind that the breaking of Guest Right was MASSIVELY worse than breaking an engagement. It’s like punishing a person for not apologizing for bumping into you by destroy his town with a dirty radiological bomb. The Freys have poison diplomatic relations in the entirety of Westeros for years, if not a generation or more. Without the security of Guest Right, opposing sides can’t meet to negotiate peace terms, just to name one example.

        I’ll add that the reason that breaking of Guest Right was such a big deal is that the Freys got away with it. If they had been promptly subjected to some sort of horrendous punishment by the powers at King’s Landing (or any powerful force, but KL is the only one left), then Guest Right could still be counted on. But Tywin has clearly signaled that he doesn’t care about that. And anyone who has to meet with his agents in any form of peace negotiation will remember that. Tyrion made a remark on the Show that Ned Stark had also been promised that he’d be allowed to take the Black if he confessed but the deal had been reneged on. I’m sure that was one of the factors that made a Trial by Battle more appealing. These “quaint” customs that keep people like Tywin from just doing whatever they want serve a purpose. It’s very disturbing that Tywin didn’t seem to realize the tool he was throwing away to get rid of Robb Stark. You could argue that sabotaging Guest Right was worth getting rid of the King of the North, but I don’t see any evidence at all the Tywin thought about costs versus benefits.

      • No it wasn’t. Walder was looking for a reason to bolt, all along. He’s a habitual bad actor, and if it hadn’t have been that it would have been something else.

      • Laural H says:

        Tyrion was shocked BC Westerling had no men and was supposed to be a Lannister bannerman. Also, his dad seemed more amused than insulted.

  13. HindenLagen says:

    I remember being amused by Lord Walder Frey making a reference to this game prior to the red wedding (during Robb’s apology I think). Referring to awoiaf to get this right:

    Before the Red Wedding, the embittered Lord Walder Frey speaks to Robb Stark, saying “You wanted crossing and I gave it to you, and you never said mayhaps, heh.” [Chapter 49, ASOS, Catelyn]. This hints to the reader, but not to Robb, at some sort of approaching turnabout.

  14. Leee says:

    Perchance Bran’s magical cauldron is filled with whiskey? Which, from what I know of the Irish ballad “Finnegan’s Wake,” has restorative powers that can reanimate the dead (and which of course forms a skeleton for “Finnegans Wake”). Hearing that his head gets removed with the upshot of orphic prophesying of course brings to mind Orpheus, as well.

  15. anderov says:

    Somehow I’ve managed to miss the Bran the Builder = AA/last hero. Is there a good write-up of that someone could link me to?

  16. Todd says:

    “Bran the Builder, and given that he was almost certainly the Last Hero and Azor Ahai”

    Did I miss this? What’s the proof of that?

    • Last Hero fought in the Battle for the Dawn (as per Old Nan) seeking the Children of the Forest to use their magic to turn back the Others, Azor Ahai (as per Melisandre) also fought in the Battle for the Dawn and used magic to forge Lightbringer to turn back the Others; note that both men dealt with a broken sword.

      Bran the Builder was a contemporary of the Battle for the Dawn and founded the Night’s Watch, who fought in said battle, and the Wall immediately after the victory – and was also clearly a magic user gifted in construction. And as the founder of House Stark and first King in the North, he would count as a prince whose return could be promised.

      Simplest explanation, to me, is that Bran the Builder was the Last Hero and Azor Ahai.

      • Todd says:

        Makes sense. I just didn’t know that it was a common connection or universally held position.

      • Andrew says:

        Also, from the WOIAF snip released, we learn that Brandon the Builder also sought the Children of the Forest like the last hero did.

  17. Roger says:

    We are not completly sure Big Walder killed his cousin. Remember he wrote a letter to the Twins asserting Ramsay’s version of the fall of Winterfell. Perhaps someone who wanted the truth tortured and killed the boy, and BW only found the body. Perhaps the Manderlys did it. Perhaps it was the cloaked man who Theon’s meet. Who knows?

    I didn’t get the impression Big Walder was so bad. His cousin was real worst.

    Their game is interesting, but we don’t know how other Westeros children’s game work. Probably if this game was played by the Starks, we would say better things about it. Games are only that, and are the adults who really shape the boys. In the Twins there are really bad influences (and the Late Lord shouldn’t be allowed to speak to boys!). Also many Freys aren’t really bad, but also aren’t really clever, and easily manipulated (Hosteen or Merrett for example).
    Personaly I thought the 2 Walders were anoying, but sometimes funny (“I will be the Lord of the Crossing!”/”No, me!”/”No me!”/Maester Luwin: SHUT UP!). Just like Old Walder or Kraznis from Astapor. Funny but horrible.

    • The Starks play games all the time – we hear about plenty of them. But the Lord of the Crossing game is only found in the Twins.

      • ajay says:

        The Starks play, if I remember correctly, “Come into the Castle”, which is all about teaching the kids to recognise who their allied and dependent Houses are, and how to treat them properly!

        Interesting… I wonder what games the Lannister kids play? The Martell kids? This might be an interesting one to look into.

        • gavinbyrnes says:

          The Lannisters also played come into my castle, Tyrion mentions it to Penny. The Martells play swim naked and pretend social class doesn’t matter, then fuck a lot and eat spicy food.

        • I’m not sure about “Come into the Castle” – some mentions give it a “playing doctor” vibe.

  18. No “what ifs” here — is it okay if I suggest one? (I don’t think it’s already been suggested by any another commenter.) What if Maester Luwin had not forced the direwolves to be locked up in the Godswood? Theon only sent 6 men over the walls during his stealth invasion and Bran’s wolf dream in that chapter indicates that Summer and Shaggy were well aware of what was happening and trying their damnest to get out. If they had been free to follow their instincts and attack, the two of them could have likely dispatched enough of the ironborn to prevent them from opening the gate for the rest of Theon’s forces, or at least raised an alarm in time for whatever was left of the castle garrison to resist them.

  19. Sorry! I can’t seem to go back and edit a post, or even delete it. I wanted to finish up by saying that then gets rid of Theon’s takeover, and possibly prevents the Red Wedding, down the line. But it would also prevent Bran from joining up with Bloodraven beyond the wall, and the story hasn’t progressed enough to know what the consequences of that would be.

  20. […] danger, he’s never had wolf-dreams before in the same way that Bran has been doing since the beginning of ACOK. And then […]

  21. John says:

    THe crossing game seems to be based on the episode in Robin Hood ballads where Little John knocks Robin into the water with his quarterstaff. Little John, like Little Walder, was big.

  22. […] contract as a vanished golden age to contrast it against the state of the kingdom. As with the Fisher King, the land and the king are linked, so that without a Stark in Winterfell (note that Eddard Stark […]

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