Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran IV, ACOK

“Open your eye…the crow gave you the third, but you will not open it.”

Synopsis: Bran discusses the greensight with Jojen and Meera, and then with Maester Luwin.

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:

I don’t quite like Bran IV as much as the previous one, in part because we’re beginning to move away from Bran’s political plot, and into the realm of the metaphysical. On the other hand, now that I’m rewatching Season 2 for the podcast, I’m much more aware of how much better A Clash of Kings handled the introduction of this theme than the show did, so it could be worse.

The Hornwood Crisis

It’s somewhat fitting that Bran’s mystical plot comes to the fore just as the political side of things is starting to go to hell, just off screen. As I’ve mentioned before, the Hornwood crisis ensures that the North is fully distracted by events to the east, just as the real threat emerges in the west:

 “The old knight was off east, trying to set to rights the trouble there. Roose Bolton’s bastard had started it by seizing Lady Hornwood as she returned from the harvest feast, marrying her that very night even though he was young enough to be her son. Then Lord Manderly had taken her castle. To protect the Hornwood holdings from the Boltons, he had written, but Ser Rodrik had been almost as angry with him as with the bastard.”

Even before we meet Ramsay/Reek the person, we’re here exposed to Ramsay the force of nature, disrupting the political balance in the North . By seizing Lady Hornwood and forcibly joining her lands to that of the Boltons (almost doubling their size and giving them a key castle on the White Knife – no wonder the Manderlys intervene), Ramsay threatens to make his House the regional hegemon, just as his father acts to weaken his neighbors. And while Ramsay’s actions are disorganized to the point of bringing down retribution from the Starks, the way they parallel Roose’s actions down south in terms of motive and effect really makes me wonder whether Ramsay has gone rogue, or whether his father is using him as a disavowable asset (more on this later). On a more symbolic level, Ramsay demonstrates that the Starks can no longer keep the peace or protect their bannermen – although Ser Rodrik is conscious enough of the feudal social contract that he’s willing to mobilize to keep it, something he won’t yet do for the overall war effort.

And yet, at the same time, this is a huge distraction. As Errant Bard’s timeline shows, the Ironborn’s attack is mere days away from the next Bran chapter, and the North’s military forces are not ready. As many as 6,000 Northmen are directly engaged in the Hornwood dispute (there’s another 2,000-9,000 Northmen out there who aren’t directly engaged but who are distracted by the crisis), easily enough to repel the lesser assaults on Deepwood Motte and the Stony Shore and to put Moat Cailin under siege, if not to attack the Iron Fleet directly. And while Ser Rodrik chases Boltons, he’s way too busy to raise the hill clans or summon the Umbers and the Karstarks and the Dustins and the Ryswells to arms. And while Wyman Manderly seizing Castle Hornwood makes sense geopolitically, it’s also self-serving at the very time the North needs self-sacrifice, and it greatly delays him bringing any resources to bear on the Ironborn. Unlike Ser Rodrik, however, Wyman’s had his opportunity to learn his lesson.

credit to Hayao Miazaki and Studio Ghibli

The Reeds and the Sight

And now we get to the Reeds and their role in Bran Stark’s storyline. Up until now, magic has remained at the subconscious or subaltern (in the case of Osha) level, but the Reeds drag in into the daytime and the waking world, too real and too highborn to be ignored. Indeed, even their House’s holdfast is replete with magical symbolism:

 “Ravens can’t find Greywater Watch, no more than our enemies can.”

“Why not?”

“Because it moves.”

On one level, I’m almost annoyed that I didn’t pick up on the reference to Howl(and Reed)’s Moving Castle – and for those of you who might be thinking that a 1998 novel can’t be referencing a 2004 film, keep in mind that long-time Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention-goer George R.R Martin is quite likely familiar with the 1986 novel by Diana Wynne Jones. On another level, there’s a link to Arthurian mythos – Avalon (believed to be Glastonbury Castle), the castle on the lake where the Holy Grail is hidden, the same castle where the wounded Arthur is taken to recover from his poisoned wound and where he rests, awaiting the call for return, is supposedly only able to be found by those of pure heart.

Jojen Reed appears here as a sort of herald of the three-eyed-crow (a force we haven’t really seen since AGOT), a messenger who brings the revelation of what Bran is and where he must go:

“I dreamed of a winged wolf bound to earth with grey stone chains…it was a green dream, so I knew it was true. A crow was trying to peck through the chains, but the stone was too hard and his beak could only chip at them.”

“You are the winged wolf, Bran…I wasn’t sure when we first came, but now I am. The crow sent us here to break your chains.”

“…Is the crow at Greywater?”

“No. The Crow is in the North…Beyond the Wall…”

As people have noted, GRRM doesn’t get too abstruse with his symbolism: Bran is clearly the winged wolf, wings being a metaphor for magic established since Bran III of AGOT; the grey stone chains symbolize both Winterfell itself and the chains of Luwin’s rationalist skepticism (more of which on later). Bran will have to leave all of this behind to realize his destiny, although unfortunately this will require a further sacrifice in the form of Winterfell and Luwin before he’s ready to make the break and travel to the far North. All of this seems a lot more standard fantasy than we’re often used to from GRRM, but as we can see from the Ur-Text, Bran’s story was always meant to be more of a quest narrative – albeit one that will in its own ways comment on and play with the tropes set down by Tolkien.

Credit to Michael Cho

Jojen is also here to tell Bran without equivocation to “open your eye…you have three.” Helpfully, rather than keep things completely in the dark, GRRM sets out out quite early, through Jojen, what Bran’s powers will include: “with two eyes you see my face. With three you could see my heart. With two you can see that oak tree there. With three you could see the acorn the oak grew from and the stump it will one day become. With two you see no farther than your walls. With three you would gaze south to the Summer Sea and North beyond the Wall.” As we can now see in Bran’s chapters in ADWD and his possible intervention in Theon’s TWOW chapter, Bran will be able to transcend both time and space to see (and influence) events happening in the past, present, and future – and I highly doubt his ability to see into the “heart” will be limited to Hodor. Indeed, while Maester Luwin is skeptical about the “power over the beasts of the wood and the birds in the trees,” the World of Ice and Fire is highly suggestive that those powers exist in far more advanced ways than mere warging.

At the same time, Jojen is also here to provide a kind of shamanic model for Bran Stark:

“Did the crow have three eyes?”

“…When I was little I almost died of greywater fever. That was when the crow came to me.”

“He came to me after I fell…”

“My brother had the greensight…he dreams things that haven’t happened, but sometimes they do.”

“There is no sometimes, Meera.” A looked passed between them; him sad, her defiant…

The common emphasis on suffering as a catalyst for enlightenment is something I’ve talked about a little before, but I might as well tackle in some detail in the historical section. However, it’s interesting that in both these cases we have Bloodraven – who himself lost an eye and gained mystical wisdom, a la Odin – reaching out to a child in pain who might be one of the dreamers. It indicates a larger plot going on in the background of the series to gather allies for the greater struggle with the Heart of Winter aka the Great Other, but it’s also one that can be taken too far. If everything is Bloodraven, then no character really has agency and their value is diminished. Thus, I’m pretty sure that Euron Crowseye is meant to be a failed apprentice, a man grasping after arcane secrets and pretending to more than he truly knows, rather than a major villain who’s going to bind dragons and bring the storms down on the Redwyne Fleet.

Jojen is also a model for Bran in that he signifies that destiny will not bring happiness – it’s not an empowerment or self-actualization fantasy for mythic hero audience standins.  As I discussed over on the Tumblr page, Jojen has known for much of his life the precise time and manner of his death. There aren’t many things more fundamental to human nature than our mortality and our understanding of it – realizing and getting over the fact of one’s inevitable death is a big stage of childhood development. And the uncertainty of it all shapes our lives profoundly, the way we understand risk and danger, the way we process fear. Imagine growing up knowing when and how you’re going to die – not just a vague geas as in the case of classic doomed heroes, but a vivid vision that allows you to draw inferences about how old you’ll be, where you’ll be, and how it will happen. In a sense, Jojen Reed is beyond humanity. No wonder the Little Grandfather is without fear, no wonder that he’s old beyond his years. The fact that he can know what he knows and not go mad makes him a hell of a lot more impressive than Bloodraven and Melisandre put together.

And we can see in the case of Meera how his knowledge of his own fate brings her fear and grief, as she simultaneously accepts and rejects what his visions mean, especially when Jojen’s belief that “today is not the day I die” makes him engage in highly risky behavior like trying to stare down a direwolf. The rest of Bran’s family is going to undergo the same fear and grief as they experience separation and supposed death. Because of this, Bran’s refusal of the call comes off much less petulant than it does otherwise:

“…I felt you fall. Is that what scares you, the falling?”

The falling, Bran thought, and the golden man, the queen’s brother, he scares me too, but mostly the falling. He did not say it, though. How could he? He had not been able to tell Ser Rodrik or Maester Luwin, and he could not tell the Reeds either. If he didn’t talk about it, maybe he would forget. He had never wanted to remember. It might not even be a true remembering.

When magic is reduced to the safe, predictable level of Jedi Mind Tricks, dog-latin wand-twirling, or fire-and-forget Magic Missile, this refusal becomes harder to understand. But Bran is clearly coming from a place of trauma and repression inherently tied to his magical awareness – and notably, right at the moment where Bran begins to break through and experience wolf dreams in the day time, he’s powered by his dissociated remembering. Summer becomes immediately aggressive toward Jojen, the one who’s forcing him to remember, and Bran’s inside the wolf and himself at the same time: “the scent was strong; his brother had smelled his rage. Bran felt hairs rise on the back of his neck.” (at the same time, I’m really hoping that this plotline goes somewhere eventually – Bran needs to haunt Jaime and/or Cersei but good in TWOW)

Maester Luwin the Skeptic

However, before Bran can fully accept his destiny, he has to hear the other side – in this case Maester Luwin. The World of Ice and Fire and AFFC have already laid out the foundations for the Grand Maester Conspiracy to eliminate magic in favor of a rational world, but I think it’s noteworthy that, before we get into conspiracy theories, we see how such an effort is rooted in individual psychology:

“…you told me that the children of the forest had the greensight. I remember.”

“Some claimed to have that power. Their wise men were called greenseers.”

“Was it magic?”

“Call it that for want of a better word, if you must. At heart it was only a different sort of knowledge.”

“What was it?”

“…No one truly knows, Bran. The children are gone from the world, and their wisdom with them. It had to do with the faces in the trees, we think. The First Men believed that the greenseers could see through the eyes of the weirwoods. That was why they cut down the trees whenever they warred upon the children. Supposedly the greenseers also had power over the beasts of the wood and the birds in the trees.”

“This is Valyrian steel…only one maester in a hundred years wears such a link. This signifies that I have studied what the Citadel calls the higher mysteries-magic, for want of a better word. A fascinating pursuit, but of small use…all those who study the higher mysteries try their own hand at spells, soon or late. I yielded to the temptation too, I must confess it…what boy does not secretly wish to find hidden powers in himself? I got no more for my efforts than a thousands boys before me…magic does not work…perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer.”

I’ve long maintained that major elements of ASOIAF work as a kind of deconstruction of fantasy as a genre, but it’s important to understand that deconstruction doesn’t mean destruction – the idea is to separate something down to its basest components to understand it better, to scrape away the patina of cliche and genre convention to find the emotional truth that gives it life. So I think there’s a critique of the whole chosen one trope here – especially as it applies to magic: life isn’t going to drop wands and owls or lightsabers in your lap just because you want them to, and that thinking that greatness will simply be dropped down on you without effort leads to passivity and an undeserved sense of thwarted ambition.

At the same time, GRRM is still a fantasy author, and one of the things that separates fantasy from sci-fi is the attitude to science and knowledge – as a genre, sci-fi believes that, ultimately, all of existence will be known and explored; fantasy, by contrast, desires to retain some aspect of mystery, of the supernatural. Thus, the roles are flipped – the rational skeptics are the crazy conspirators, working behind the scenes to pull the wool over the eyes of humanity; it’s the people who believe in snarks and grumpkins who are the champions of truth.

The Second Dream

The second dream thus comes to Bran as a way to test the reliability of greensight, and thus a way to choose between magic and science. The interesting thing here is how prosaic Jojen’s vision is:

“The crow lied when he said I could fly, and your brother lied too…”

“Bran, will you let me tell you about a dream Jojen dreamed of you and your fosterling brothers?”

“…You were sitting at supper, but instead of a servant, Maester Luwin brought you your food. He served you the king’s cut off the roast, the meat rare and bloody, but with a savory smell that made everyone’s mouth water. The meat he served the Freys was old and grey and dead. Yet they liked their supper better than you liked yours.”

It’s a nice touch, because it avoids the bombastic element often found in prophecy and other forms of clairvoyance. If every prophecy is about saving the world from certain destruction, if every past life is as an Egyptian princess or a priestess from Atlantis, then the monotony begins to work against the wonder of it all. Having Jojen see the future as it appears to both mundane and truly important events makes it feel more real. On the other hand, and I’ll get into this more next Bran chapter, this vision has a subtle nod to the Red Wedding, another ripple of that event back through time.

Historical Analysis:

Enough dancing around the topic, let’s get into shamanism.

There is an absolutely voluminous anthropological literature on shamanism in cultures across the world – while the term shamanism comes out of the Tungusic cultures of Northern Asia (i.e, eastern Siberia and Mongolia), anthropologists have found evidence of shamanistic traditions in Europe (especially in Russian, Scandinavian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian culture), across virtually all of the Americas from the Inuit in the polar region down to the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego, an enormously rich tradition in Africa, in Papua New Guinea and Australia, and so on and so on. Basically anywhere that human beings have ever lived, they’ve developed a tradition of shamanism.

Hamatsa Shaman

credit to Edward S. Curtis

And shamanism tends to have several key aspects related to Bran Stark of Winterfell’s story. The first is something I’ve alluded to briefly in the past as a need for the shaman to undergo an injury or an illness, something that anthropologist Victor Turner labelled the “shamanistic initiatory crisis.” This crisis varies from culture to culture, but tends to have a basic commonality:

The gift of shamanism requires a special call. Quite of a sudden — and that usually happens in early youth, at the time coinciding with sexual maturity — the future shaman is taken with an acute disease, followed by hysterical fits, faintings, hallucinations, etc., that sometimes torture him for weeks on end… (Andrei A. Znamenski, Shamanism: Critical Concepts in Sociology, 2003)

Injury or disease that brings the shaman to the point of death, accompanied by mystical dreams and hallucinations, is believed to be a sign that the shaman has spiritually crossed over into the world of the dead, the world of the spirit, so that they can learn their secrets to be used for the benefit of the community. Indeed, in many instances, there is a sense of sympathetic magic at work – as the “wounded healer,” the shaman understands illness in ways that ordinary humans cannot and can thus provide insight and medicine to the sick; in this context, illness is often seen as much as a matter of the mind and spirit as the body, and the role of the shaman is to uncover that which is secret and shameful so that it can be purged, by learning how to control and induce their trances (again, shades of warging here). Thus, Bran Stark loses his legs so that he may fly – he is broken, so that he can learn how to rebuild.

Another aspect of the shamanic tradition – in Hindu culture, Taoist tradition, European theosophy, and various New Age movements – is the idea of the third eye, a sign of enlightenment that signifies one can perceive the supernatural, and perhaps peer into the future. The symbolism is pretty straightforward; as TV Tropes notes, if two eyes lets you see better than one, maybe three are even better. Thus, Bloodraven opens Bran’s third eye, so that he can gain the greensight, see into the past and future, and see the truth of the real conflict that awaits our heroes in the Far North.

What If?

There’s not really any scope for What Ifs here, as the one moment with some actual danger (Summer charging Jojen) is specifically precluded by George R.R Martin. Jojen is not going to die today.

Book vs. Show:

For completely understandable reasons, the HBO show tried to keep its casting budget to within reason by pushing the Reeds to Season 3 and eliminating the Walders Frey completely – now, the latter aren’t much of a loss. The Walders are a nice bit of foreshadowing of their family’s evil nature and eventual fate, but they’re ultimately rather disposable.

On the other hand, I really do think that something was lost when the show pushed the Reeds to Season 3. The result of that decision was to push all of Jojen’s mysticism into Bran, but without a real source for explanation or a way of making that world seem bigger and larger than it was in Season 1 – what should come off as a direct introduction to the mystical Northern plot, that Bran has to get North to see the three-eyed crow who is something more than just a vision in his head, just never really lands. Of course, it’s not helped by the fact that Bran’s visions were really minimized all the way up to Season 4, leaving the audience no real handle that all of this mysticism is going somewhere important for the larger story about the White Walkers.

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107 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran IV, ACOK

  1. JT says:

    The appearance of Ramsay the force of nature reminds me how wonderful the Boltons are.

    Not in a “these guys are badass” sense, but in the sense that (IMO) a story needs good antagonists, which Ramsay and Roose provide in spades. It’s also the contrast between Ramsay’s pure id approach and Roose’s pure ego approach (with exactly 0 superego combined) that makes them such compelling villains. Hopefully they get the grisly endings they both deserve.

    • Winnie says:

      I have my fingers crossed we’ll get it this season. There is no House in Westeros I want extinguished more than the Boltons.

      • JT says:

        For some reason, I want to see the Freys get it first, with the Boltons as 1a.

        Of course GRRM being GRRM, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Roose somehow ends up King of the North after many of the people in the North end up sacrificing themselves in the war against the Others.

        • Son of Fire says:

          Got to thinking what would be the worst possible fate for old walder frey,i came up with the idea of him being the last surviving member of his house.
          The one good thing about him is he actually loves his sons & daughters[not grandsons…poor jinglebell).To live long enough to see his house in ruins!
          Last one proped up as it were.
          Thoughts?

    • They’re excellent antagonists. Antagonists, people. Not protagonists.

  2. Grant says:

    Luwin raises an interesting question about why exactly he and, so far as he knows, all his predecessors were unable to actually work any magic. Was it deliberately flawed instruction left behind, a lack of some inherent talent in his ancestry? Both? We know that Marwyn traveled to Asshai and that he’s used a glass candle, but that could just mean that he met actual figures with magic and that he’s able to use magical tools even without innate power (in the same way that by pressing a button you can turn on a computer even though you have no electrical powers).

    And just by looking at that I’m reminded that even if magic is supposed to be at least somewhat mysterious, we have still have an urge to analyze it and establish rules for it. In fact, usually writers are encouraged to have basic rules for their magic to avoid a feeling of deus ex machina.

    • David Hunt says:

      There are also numerous references to the fact that magic (especially fire magic) has gotten stronger (and easier) recently. It’s clearly correlated to the birth of Dany’s dragons. I believe that whether the birth of dragons caused this return of magic, or if their birth was made possible by the return, is not explicitly stated by anyone whose authority I trust. In any case, it might be that if Luwen had been trying the same things when he made his speech to Bran that it would have worked.

      • Winnie says:

        That’s my theory too-there really wasn’t any ‘active’ magic around when Luwin tried his hand at it, but there sure as Seven Hells as is now!

        Also magic may require a certain innate ‘talent’ to be practiced-one perhaps related to bloodlines/genetics. Not just anyone *can* successfully perform a spell; it can only be done by those individuals who have the Gift/Curse.

        • Brett says:

          That seems to be the case with warging and greenseer magic. You’re born with the potential for it, and it either awakens or doesn’t.

      • I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, because there’s too much residual magic in the world before they show up.

        • Winnie says:

          True but as you note, residual magic seemed centered more in the Far East, (especially Asshai) than in Westeros.

          • Grant says:

            The problem with that is Bloodraven. He was very capable of magic and that was long after the dragons were dead. And Mormont and Benjen frankly state that Mance’s army will include wargs, indicating they’ve faced them in the past. So dragons may be empowering, but I’m inclined to think that Westeros just wasn’t a very good place for magical education under the repression by Maesters.

          • Grant raises a good point. Magic was certainly weakened, but it was never gone.

    • I think it’s a mix of regional issues – magic is definitely stronger near the eastern hinge than the western hinge before the dragons come – and other factors.

      My guess is that there are certain ethical issues involved – Qyburn’s definitely using some forms of blood magic and necromancy that the Citadel views as immoral.

      Regarding the rules, I think GRRM is actually a good counter-example. The less rules you have, the more magical it feels.

      • Grant says:

        But we saw the reaction people had to the Child using her powers on the wights in the show didn’t we? I think it shows that there are limits to how far you can take that. A human entering the body of an animal. Connecting your body to some kind of magical tree to extend your own life and be part of something. Dreams that show the future. Those are all things that people can see in this. But a magical character (with no connection to dragons) being able to throw fireballs? Judging by fan reaction, not so much.

        • Winnie says:

          For that matter I never liked the fireball thing much either…though I LOVED Bloodraven and apparently I wasn’t alone.

        • Frankly, I thought that reaction was stupid. Both ASOIAF and WOIAF are quite clear that fire magic is quite real – if Qartheen fagins can conjure fire-ladders, if Melisandre can make warged birds spontaneously combust, if the Valyrian fire mages could stand down slave rebellions on their own, why not a Child of the Forest throwing fireballs?

          • Grant says:

            I think it’s a reaction based on associations. Melisandre, for example, is a priestess of a deity associated with light and fire. So it’s logical that her powers would have a general connection to that. Before that scene with Davos she even explicitly mentioned how shadows are connected to light, probably for that reason. The same with the Valyrians, they were a group associated with volcanoes, dragons and general heat.

            But when people think of the Children, they think of nature. Plants and animals mostly. And it’s understandable that blood can get in there, it’s a very visible part of life* and so things like consuming it for sustenance and power make sense. Even things like seeing what a tree saw long in the past or right now. Power to create fire isn’t something really thought of in that. Had it been something like tree branches grabbing the wights or animals ripping them apart, I don’t think it would have gotten criticism.

            *For all of how the later seasons went downhill, there was an interesting moment in later Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the character Spike mentions how important blood is.

          • Winnie says:

            I agree with Grant. Fire balls seemed so incongruous for the Children in that icy northern landscape. It might have seemed less so in Essos.

            Also, Steve, it’s worth nothing we haven’t seen “fire ladders”, spontaneously combusting birds, or any Valyrian fire magic on the show yet have we?!?

          • Grant – on the other hand, the Children clearly have water magic, despite that being a Rhoynar thing as well. So it doesn’t seem too cut-and-dried.

        • Laural H says:

          The arguments I saw specifically thought that the Others wouldn’t exist if the Children of the Forest could shoot fireballs at them.

      • Jarred says:

        I think it’s definitely a case of different tools for different jobs; GRRM is using magic to make the world bigger and scarier and to highlight the shortsightedness of the comparatively petty political conflicts, so it’s more useful to take the Tolkien-y ‘fairy stories’ approach, or the eldritch and unknowable angle you get from horror, where knowing the rules and the shape of things would make them less frightening. As much as I like the Sanderson or Butcher style, it’s suited to a wildly different type of story, where the magic needs to be understood so it can be used to solve problems, and thus the solutions don’t feel like ass-pulls.

        Personally I doubt GRRM is going to be using magic to solve a lot of problems in the story, and any cases where that does really happen will probably either be foreshadowed or otherwise thematically consistent.

        But it’s like, y’know… Gandalf didn’t magic a lot of problems away, either. Usually he hit them with a sword.

        • And see, that’s where I think GRRM is on to something. Magic shouldn’t solve problems, otherwise it becomes a form of technology. Magic should be the cause of them, and any supposed cure costs more than you’re willing to pay.

      • Andrew says:

        GRRM borrows his version of magic from Tolkien, pointing out that Gandalf’s magic was usually not on display in the series as Jarred touches on. That is something Tad Williams’s witch character, Geloe, points out in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn: “First of all, what you call ‘magic’ has its cost. If it could easily be used to defeat a dozen armed men, the armies of princes would be full of hired wizards.”

        Magic can’t be that easy to use or understand, or it would beg the question of why there aren’t any sorcerers in the armies we have seen in the series. The exceptions are the water wizards of the Rhoynar, the wizards of Valyria and possibly the red priests Moqorro and Melisandre. Yet even Melisandre mentions her magic has its limits.

    • Brett says:

      The maesters might have sabotaged some of the books in their library so that the spells don’t work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual reason had something to do with blood sacrifices – magic seems to run heavily on blood and sacrifice, especially fire magic. Maybe Luwin couldn’t get his spells to work because he wasn’t willing to burn an animal alive in a fire for it, or coat the candle in blood from a freshly killed critter.

      • That’s my thinking. Especially with what we know about Qyburn, it’s pretty clear the Citadel would be deeply opposed to blood magic, and blood magic is one of the things it’s absolutely clear worked before dragons were reborn.

  3. Amestria says:

    What’s with the reference to Howls Moving Castle?

    • David Hunt says:

      Howland Reed is the Lord of Greywater Watch which moves, maybe due to it being on some sort of artificial floating island or maybe due to magic. So we have Howl[and Reed]’s Moving Castle. It’s an injoke easter egg reference to the novel, the same way that the Tullys have ancestors named Grover, Elmo, and (IIRC) Oscar as a reference to the muppets on Sesame Street and another House has members referencing the Three Stooges. The names of a bunch of members (no pun intended) of House Manwoody are full of dick jokes.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        There was definitely a Kermit Tully too.

      • Grover, Elmo, and Kermit. No Oscar as yet.

        BTW: Grover = Blue Fork, Elmo = Red Fork, Kermit = Green Fork.

      • libluini says:

        To be honest, when I read about Greywater Watch the first time, I imagined it as some kind of seasonal settlement. I still don’t believe it’s a literal moving castle, as that would be utterly boring. The Grannockmen being semi-nomads with seasonal “moving” settlements is fascinating, we need more of that in fantasy and less magic castles.

    • Amestria says:

      *reads further* Well, now I feel foolish.

  4. Winnie says:

    Great analysis as always Steve, and I like your points about how if it hadn’t been for the Hornwood crisis, the Iron Born never could have gotten a foothold in the North.

    I think your critique that the show doesn’t do full justice to Bran’s journey as a Greenseer might be a tad off though. All the Unsullied seemed to grasp pretty quickly that Bran’s visions had significance and that he could see the future, especially after he dreamed of the sea coming to Winterfell.

    The real problem is that people just don’t like that particular storyline period. They actually preferred the scenes when Bran was still at Winterfell inter-acting with Theon and others. Bran’s journey with the Reeds in seasons 3 and 4 has been seen as a waste of time by most viewers because to put it bluntly Quest Stories are NOT why anyone is following this series so closely and the fact that this particular quest didn’t have much to do with anything else happening on the show made the problem much worse-which may explain why they had the detour at Craster’s to try to bind Jon’s story and Bran’s a little more closely but it wasn’t especially successful.

    Yet another reason, I think they’re having IH and KN take a break from the show for a season, so that by the time Bran *does* reappear having completed his Greenseer training, (which will also go a long way toward covering the actor’s obvious aging,) he’s probably going to be a LOT more enmeshed in other storylines. Even if he’s interacting with his siblings and others via the Weirwood network he will be interacting-and probably helping shape events.

    • “people just don’t like that particular storyline period.” – Dunno if that’s true. In the books, people liked Queenscrown, they liked Coldhands, they liked the Three Eyed Crow reveal.

      • Sean C. says:

        Sure, but those are isolated moments (apart from Coldhands).

        Though another part of the problem with Bran’s story in the show is that the show’s writers and directors lack the budget and/or imagination to make warging interesting to watch (same for Bran’s visions, which are all dreadfully dull). It’s always represented as if you’re playing a rather dull FPS game — what they really need is CGI wolves, but that would cost a fortune.

      • Winnie says:

        Ok, to be fair people on the show.

        Now you might argue that’s a sign the show hasn’t done the books version complete justice and a lot of people missed COldhands, (but hey D&D simply *can’t* include everything, and I think they did a good job of making that story reach its conclusion even without CH,) but a deeper problem is that mystical journeys in general play on better on the page than on screen.

        Another factor being that show viewers include a LOT of people, (including my mother) who have little or no interest in traditional fantasy fare and thus have less overall patience for Bran’s Quest than the readership, (who as a group ARE more fantasy oriented even if they’re reading ASOIAF as a deconstruction of the genre.) Which is I think one reason they’re not even bothering with Dany’s “spiritual journeys” and why Mel’s magic seems more…toned down on the show.

        Now the Dragons are as important as ever while White Walkers if anything seem even more impressive and vital on the show than they did in the books but that’s because they serve allegorical purposes. Dany’s dragons are the WMD’s of Planetos and the White Walkers represent the larger growing threat that the politicians all refuse to address like Global Warming, Growing Inequality, a Jobless Future, etc. etc.

        • JT says:

          The other problem with (show) Bran is that Isaac Hempstead-Wright (the actor who plays Bran) is aging in fast forward compared to the rest of the cast.

          I watch the show with a mixture of book readers and TV-only viewers, and every time Bran has a scene, everybody starts talking about “how old he’s gotten” and “how big he is”.

          It’s always weird when the show comes back and it’s supposed to have been 6 weeks or 3 months since the last season and everyone looks more or less the same, except Bran who looks 2 years older. For whatever reason his aging requires a suspension of disbelief that breaks the fourth wall in a way that say, pretending Massie Williams could pass off as a boy, or dragons are real don’t.

          It’s too bad, because Isaac Hempstead-Wright isn’t a bad actor, he’s just being done in by circumstances (plotting, puberty) beyond his control.

          • Sean C. says:

            Maisie hasn’t had to pretend to be a boy since the second season. She also has the “advantage” of having topped out at 5 foot nothing.

    • Faber says:

      People always underestimate the Iron Islands, and overestimate the North. The Ironborn have conquered and held significant territory in the North before

  5. David Hunt says:

    Good stuff Steven. Not too much political going on in this chapter besides news of the Hornwood FUBAR. I’m sure you’re looking forward to next chapter where you get to discuss Treason, spying, and Tywin’s likely massive hypocrisy regarding the use of prostitutes

    • Winnie says:

      It’s no secret Tyrion chapters tend to be Steve’s favorites, (though I think he’s developing a real soft spot for Theon’s storyline in this book) and it’s completely understandable too.

      That being said, I’m especially hyped for Sansa III-it’s not so important from a political/historical perspective but the psychological and character dynamics present are mind-blowing. And I actually really liked how they handled it on the show and for how that fed into the Tyrion/Sansa dynamic.

      Ahem a later time. Another thing I like about this chapter is the way they set up that while these visions always come true one way or another interpreting them is always a trick since the visions are so often metaphors. I also like how the vision related to the Walders, when we finally learn what it means tells us about House Frey and the coming civil war at the Twins.

  6. Amestria says:

    This was interesting. I liked the part about the Shamans.

  7. Winnie says:

    Oh, and congrats Steve on being over 40% through ACOK!

    Hopefully you’ll top 50% by the time Season Five kicks off

  8. Sean C. says:

    Rereads and the thinking I’ve done about the adaptation to TV have led to my developing a dislike of Jojen as a part of the narrative. What he is, fundamentally, is the sort of character who could easily explain quite a lot of what’s going on, but he doesn’t, for no real reason other than it suits the author. The chapter about the Knight of the Laughing Tree, case in point.

    • I like Jojen. As I mention in the text, the thing about knowing when you’re going to die is pretty mind-blowing if you think about it.

      • Winnie says:

        One moment from the show I really loved was when they were asking Jojen how they’d know when they reached their destination and he tells them they’ll know-while seeing his own hand covered in blue flames.

        That was a really great use of the magical elements and truly spooky.

      • Son of Fire says:

        The cyclops in krull,broke my heart every time i watched it.Liam neeson is really young in that film & so is the guy who gets a ball & chain to the head from william wallace in braveheart….hey lets ride a horse out the top window of a tower yay!! Poor horsie

  9. Fanger01 says:

    And this is where the entire series took a massive downturn for me IMHO. So far the books had managed to avoid ridiculous elfy magic crap. Ruined forever.

  10. JT says:

    Could Ser Rodrick have rallied the Mountain Clans? Something about the way Jon describes them to Stannis makes me think they’d stay home unless a Stark (or a King) came to get them, or it’s to directly help the Starks.

    Reclaiming Winterfell from the Ironborn for the Starks – sure, but I’m not so sure they’d go fight for Rodrick to throw the Ironborn out of Tohren’s Square, or to put down a Bolton-Manderly dispute.

    • Winnie says:

      Well they were willing to throw the Iron Born out of Deepwood Motte…but that was after Stannis rallied them to fight for Winterfell and “Ned’s girl.”

    • Rufus Leek says:

      The mountain clans could have covered Winterfell while Rodrik led his own troops elsewhere.

    • 1. The Mountain Clans hate the Ironborn because they live on the west coast of the North, and thus suffer from Ironborn raids.

      2. Summoning the banners to defend the North from invasion is the very definition of helping the Starks.

      3. As Winnie points out, they’re certainly willing to clear them out of Deepwood Motte.

  11. Andrew says:

    Another good one in the bag.

    I think Greywater Watch is a floating island akin to the tussocks found in the swamps of the southeastern US, clumps of mud and peat held together by the roots of aquatic plants. One thing Greywater Watch definitely must have is a weirwood. Greywater Watch could be a (likely timber) keep on a patch of mud and peat held together by the roots of a heart tree. It would emphasize the connection the Reeds have with the Old Gods, and be symbolic of how their connection with the Old Gods is what holds them up.

  12. Allenips says:

    So in this chapter you discuss the awakening of the third eye in Bran, but what of the other Stark children? At this point, the third eye is tied to skin-changing, so how would you phrase the opening of Jon, Arya, and Sansa’s third eyes, or lack there of? Do you think Arya is subconsciously controlling Nymeria? Or is there a connection without a full awakening of her eye?

    • Winnie says:

      It’s kind of odd that Sansa is the only one among the three who’s shown NO signs of warging as of yet. Perhaps due to the loss of Lady or because she’s part of the King’s Landing and later Vale scenes and everyone there is still ‘sheltered’ from the metaphysical elements of the story.

      • Crystal says:

        I think that is right – Sansa lost Lady too early, and being isolated as she was in KL and later the Vale, she had no opportunity to practice warging with any other creature (like Arya does with cats). Sansa’s story, of all the Stark children, seems to center on the worldly as opposed to the supernatural. She may develop more ties to the supernatural later in the series, or this may be where her storyline stays. Maybe she’s the Stark who represents the family in the Southern political arena – that is where her training is taking place.

        (The Ur-text seems to indicate that she was to die – killed by Jaime, IIRC. It seems that GRRM is not going to pursue that, thank heavens. I am VERY glad that both the Sansa and the Jaime story lines/character arcs took the direction they did, rather than in the Ur-text. Frankly, the Sansa and Jaime we have now are a lot more interesting than they were depicted in that outline.)

        • Sean C. says:

          The ur-text didn’t specify what happened to ur-Sansa have ur-Jaime killed her son. She may have died then, though that wouldn’t have left her very long to “rue” her choice of allegiance, so she may have continued on in the story in some other capacity (though clearly a more minor character either way).

          I don’t think Sansa’s latent magical potential will ever manifest. That will be the most tangible legacy of the death of Lady.

      • Alden Kascak-Harth says:

        I have read some pretty interesting evidence supporting Sansa’s nascent warging capabilities as applied to her interactions with the Hound. I think it might be reading too much into things but I also respect the decision to have her relationship with the Old Gods and Stark blood be the most complex of the kids in the series. That’s one of the major reasons she is my favorite character.

        • Crystal says:

          Yes to this! I find Sansa a complex and compelling character – same for Jaime – and neither of those two seemed well-served by the ur-text, though in fairness to that it was just an outline.

          Are you referring to the Pawn to Player threads on w.org? There was a lot of discussion on her latent warging abilities there, including a theory that they developed into a kind of empath ability instead due to circumstances.

          • Alden Kascak-Harth says:

            Yeah, that is where I found it.

            I think it is a testament to both their value in the narrative and as intriguing characters in their own right that they have changed so much from initial conception. Bran, Jon, Catelyn*, and Robb are the closest to their originals, while Tyrion, Jaime, Arya, and Sansa seem to be on new paths. I think it’s telling that three of the most altered are probably the most popular characters in the series.

            Sometimes the first idea isn’t the best. In my experience, it oft times isn’t. Drastic revision and spontaneity might be more valuable than macro outlines.

            * – If she was going to be killed by the others, I believe GRRM was planning UndeadCat from the beginning. Stoneheart feels vital to the concept of the series, so I am glad this was changed.

      • David Hunt says:

        I wouldn’t say that Sansa showed NO signs of warging. When Lady was alive, she was always perfectly behaved, just like Sansa. All the dire wolves, even Lady showed signs of the Stark children influencing them to act as reflections of their own personalities via warging. Since Lady died, that ability seems to have atrophied.

        I’m pretty sure Jon’s Third Eye was opened in ACOK when he’s on the expedition with Quorin and has the dream of talking to a tree with Bran’s face and then he ends up warging Ghost and seeing Mance’s army. I THINK that a later Bran Chapter has Bran thinking about how he (Bran) opened Jon’s Third Eye and that it implies that’s when he did it. It’s clear that Jon’s warg abilities are strong even without any training. If you’ll recall all the way back in AGOT Bran I, Jon “hears” Ghost and goes off to find him…but Ghost NEVER makes noise. Even then as far back as the first chapter of the series, Jon was already warging Ghost.

    • I don’t think it is tied to skin-changing – I think it’s tied to greensight. Jon and Arya are active skinchangers, but they’re not greenseers. And I don’t think Sansa’s gift will ever manifest.

      • Grant says:

        There might have been a So Spake Martin point where he confirmed that after Lady’s death Sansa couldn’t be a warg. I’m not absolutely certain of that however.

        • Sean C. says:

          The only SSM on that subject confirmed that they were all wargs, including Sansa, but that they weren’t all aware of this or functioning at that level.

      • David Hunt says:

        Steve, in AGOT, shortly before Eddard dies, Jon has a dream that foreshadows his death. I wish I could remember which chapter. I usually think that this was just a bad dream expressing how worried Jon was for Ned, but I also started wondering if it was something more after my re-read. It could have been a Green Dream like Jojen has, or it could have been a prophetic dream owing to his Targ heritage. But I think it was most likely just a bad dream that came true.

        I also don’t attribute any meaning to Jaime’s dream about him and Brienne fight monsters under the Rock beyond insight into Jaime’s psychology. Do you think there was any metaphysical significance to that dream?

  13. Son of Fire says:

    Excellent read,made my lazy saturday afternoon,that much more lazy 🙂

  14. On the minor political question you asked here Steven, I’m going to put myself down on the side of ‘Ramsey has gone rogue & Roose just gets lucky.’

    Roose had definitely been planning something for a while, but all of his maneuvers of weakening his rivals show that there was the option of this being a long con. Right now Robb is winning battles and the North is secure. Maybe it would be smart to keep scheming for another couple years before betraying the Young Wolf? Taking power in an independent North would require a different long term strategy than Roose’s last man standing, get a pardon from the Iron Throne strategy that ultimately happens. Roose is a manipulative sociopath, but he isn’t dumb enough to commit himself to only one strategy during the chaos of wartime.

    However Ramsey’s destabilizing actions thus far only make [cold hearted Roose style] logical sense if you know that the Ironborn attack is imminent, and that Theon is going to take Winterfell. Remove the Ironborn attacks and Ramsey’s Hornwood actions become a rallying point for internal North security. And (this is morbid, but…) the grisly death of Lady Hornwood might have given Winterfell a freer hand in appointing a successor, such as Lord Hornwood’s bastard.

    It’s only after Ramsey’s actions prove to (by shear dumb luck) improve the power dynamics for House Bolton, does Roose seem to start incorporating his son into the larger game plan.

    • Crystal says:

      And, as we see in ADWD, that is starting to bite Roose in the butt big-time due to Ramsay’s treatment of the false Arya, as Lady Dustin points out. I think that Roose did find Ramsay useful at first, and Ramsay was part of his plans, though, as you said, through sheer dumb luck at first. (Lots of authorial thumb-on-the-scale to get Robb to lose…)

      And then things start to fall apart, because Roose can’t *control* Ramsay after Ramsay gets what he wants (legitimization and the Winterfell “heiress”).

      • Exactly. In one of the above threads someone commented on how Ramsey is almost pure Id, with Roose as very much Ego. This made me think about how much I had been lukewarm on Ramsey my first time through. I felt that he was far too ‘easy to hate’.

        Then, second run through ACOK & ADWD and I began to see how he plays such a great counterbalance to Roose’s schemes. The Boltons would not be as successful without Ramsey, yet it’ll largely be the actions of the same man who will likely cause the downfall of the family.

        Everyone talks about how this series has so many tragic deaths of beloved characters, but I particularly like how GRRM cleanly lays out how the unsavory characters largely pave the way for their own downfall.

      • JT says:

        The weird thing about Roose isn’t that he can’t control Ramsay (he actually can – we see one instance in ADWD where Roose tells Ramsay not to make Ramsay regret that Roose raped Ramsay’s mother, followed by Ramsay’s acquiescence) – it’s that with one or two exceptions, Roose makes *no* effort to do so.

        Part of what makes Roose baffling is how little he seems to care about the fate of his house after his death. I can’t think of a single other lord in Westeros who functions that way.

        • Crystal says:

          I know – I don’t get Roose’s lack of concern for his House’s legacy, especially given the store other lords set on the Family Name. Roose is more or less “Ramsay will kill any sons I have with Walda, oh well, them’s the breaks.” It seems almost suicidal in a way.

          I believe that Roose and Ramsay both know that “Arya” is fake, but, they seem to forget that everyone else (except perhaps Lady Dustin) thinks she is really Arya Stark – and now there’s an angry army on the Boltons’ doorstep, and no Barristan the Bold to bail them out. Roose may sacrifice Ramsay, but there is little love for the Freys in the North, even among Roose’s allies (witness the contempt with which Lady Dustin treats them) – and Walda is a Frey. When Roose dies, at *best*, Walda will be sent packing to the Twins with her kid(s) – IF she’s lucky and isn’t killed.

          Balon Greyjoy doesn’t seem concerned with the fate of his only remaining male heir, for that matter – but in his case, he does have a daughter. Though said daughter doesn’t seem in a hurry to marry and have children, Balon might well have been planning on telling her to marry Tristifer Botley (or someone else suitable) to continue House Greyjoy. But Balon doesn’t seem to care about his *son*. The only reason I find this strange is that even Randyll Tarly, who was going to have Sam killed if he didn’t take the black, did wait to do this until he had another son.

          • JT says:

            Right. Balon doesn’t care about Theon, but he does seem to care about the Greyjoy name and the Iron Way. The reason Balon invades the North instead of the West is as “revenge” for the deaths of eldest two sons.

            Roose doesn’t seem to care about House Bolton beyond his death, and seems at most slightly perturbed that Ramsay killed Domeric. It’s odd because Roose seems to be fairly intelligent – and Ramsay’s not just potentially screwing up Roose’s legacy, he’s ruining Roose’s present.

            Then again Theon in ADWD (especially early on) is *so* broken that maybe some of the things Roose has said and done aren’t really “true”…

          • David Hunt says:

            In ACOK at his war council, Balon talks about the role that “my sons” will take in the upcoming war. He has clearly already written Theon off and is planning on
            Asha inheriting and making whoever she marries take the Greyjoy name unless Asha takes the Mormont route and has her children “fathered by Krakons.”

            Roose’s seeming total unconcern with the Bolton legacy is more puzzling. The best that I could come up with for some time was that he is a pure sociopath who cares about NOTHING besides his own personal well-being. In that scenario, he simply wouldn’t care what happens even two seconds after he’s dead as it doesn’t affect him personally. I don’t really think that’s it, however. Roose strikes me as too obsessed with good vs. bad blood, leeching, etc. to be unconcerned with his bloodline and the Bolton legacy. I think it more likely that Roose was lying to Theon, who is whole Ramsey’s creature, with the idea that this story will find its way back to Ramsey and make him feel more secure. That way he’s less likely to see the betrayal coming when Roose decides he doesn’t need him anymore and gets rid of him. “I suppose that I should have known that no royal decree of legitimization could purge him of his bastard’s taint. Hopefully, the spirits of the Starks will rest easier now that I have given them justice for what he did to poor Arya. I will raise their son as my ward so that he may rule Winterfell well and long in the Stark name. It is also fortunate that my new wife has given me trueborn sons ”that can inherit the Dreadfort free of the stain of bastardry.”

          • zonaria says:

            Roose’s behaviour actually makes more sense if his goal is the extinction of the Bolton line…

    • WPA says:

      I generally believe, and stated in an earlier thread, that Roose probably gave Ramsay some sort of vague, plausibly deniable, instruction to “seek advantage for House Bolton where possible.” Maybe something specific on the Hornwood dispute, ” seek advantage here.” or something. If things went well, great. If they didn’t, then blame it on the bastard’s blood and let King Robb lop his head off when all was said and done. Ramsay just ran with it and went whole hog on his own insane cruelty. For example, burning Winterfell, doesn’t seem like Roose’s game plan at all, if for no other reason than rebuilding it would be a huge, distracting task when other problems would surely arise.

      • Crystal says:

        I think you are right – “plausible deniability” seems to be Roose’s MO. I think that if things went pear-shaped for Roose, he’d throw Ramsay to the wolves, so to speak. (I think this is a What If? at this point – what if Lady Hornwood took more men-at-arms with her, or lingered at Winterfell, and Ramsay was himself captured or killed trying to abduct her?)

        It’s very possible that Roose will throw Ramsay under the bus in TWOW now that things are starting to look very bad for him – Fake!Arya gone, Stannis and a bunch of very angry mountain clansmen on his doorstep, and his allies starting to quarrel amongst themselves.

        • Do we have textual evidence of where Ramsey & Reek were living prior to their introduction in ACOK? I feel like knowing that would lend a lot of weight to one side or the other of this question.

          • Crystal says:

            The only thing I can recall is that the original Reek was still living at the Dreadfort when Bethany Bolton nee Ryswell (Domeric’s mother) was alive, as it was her perfume he stole and drank.

            Roose sent Reek I to Ramsay’s mother when the woman demanded a companion for Ramsay, because the boy was “unruly.” He also didn’t learn sword fighting very well – his technique was “crude” which makes me think he wasn’t brought up at the Dreadfort. He did know how to read and write, as did the original Reek, strangely enough.

            Sadly, that’s all there is in the text that I can recall. My guess is he lived with his mother most of his life and came to the Dreadfort when he was in his late teens or early twenties.

    • Not sure I agree. At this point, Ramsay hasn’t moved openly against the Starks, only to seize power from a neighbor and strengthen House Bolton.

      I see a difference between the Hornwood affair and sacking Winterfell.

  15. Faber says:

    If an Ironborn invasion of a weakened North is such a hopeless endeavor, how did the old Iron Kings ever manage to conquer Cape Kraken, Bear Island, the Stony Shore, etc?

    • Firstly, they were going for more isolated targets, and secondly, they were dealing with a more politically fragmented North where the Starks had yet to establish full hegemony.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        I’d add a third: the Ironborn of old were possibly much stronger than they are today. They probably had huge numbers of thralls back then doing pretty much everything that needed to be done, freeing a larger percentage of their population to raid, reave, and conquer.

  16. Faber says:

    But the parts about Shamanism, and its connection to physical/mental trauma, were very interesting. I wonder why the North has no shamans, or any other religious figures?

  17. […] It’s quite similar to Catelyn’s view – as we will will see – this Tully-like focus on family over glory, and it reminds us of the war’s impact on civilians left at home, who are ultimately only interested in the final victory, the one that brings their loved ones back to them. Which in turn provides an even sharper contrast when we arrive at the third layer of the scene, the confirmation of Jojen’s vision: […]

  18. The Walders reaction to hearing of Stevron’s death sets up the Freys. When they hear the heir to the Twins is dead they aren’t really upset and are more interested in who will succeed their grandfather now. Little Walder says he’ll become Lord of the Crossing even though he’s low in the chain of succession. This sums up House Frey, not really caring about their relatives, and implies that the House is about to break apart as the Freys fight for control. However we see Big Walder is a little nicer then his cousin, as he acts more sorry when Maester Luwin tells them they should be more upset at their uncle’s death, while Little Walder says he’s upset in a less convincing way.

  19. […] you’ve gone cross-eyed…) After all, at this point, Bran’s symbolic image is the winged wolf; the weirwood tree is still an external figure that is reaching out to him, which he has yet to […]

  20. […] no Glovers, no Boltons, no Umbers, few Karstarks or Flints, and no mountain clansmen point to the failure to mobilize that is Ser Rodrik’s ultimate downfall, as with a full mobilization, Winterfell […]

  21. […] Boltons deserve the vast majority of the blame both for Ramsay’s attack on Winterfell and the Hornwood crisis that precipitated it, others are also responsible. The hardcore loyalists – the Cerwyns, […]

  22. […] central conflict of the chapter, as we might expect, has to do with Bran’s newly-awoken abilities as a warg. Appropriately, we start the chapter in wolfia […]

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