Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran V, ACOK

Branface

“I never used to fall before. When I climbed. I went everyplace…now when I sleep I fall all the time.” 

Synopsis: Bran gets some new news, the Walders get some old news, Ser Rodrik arrives with Reek in tow, and Jojen teaches Bran some more about prophecy.

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:

As I’ve touched on a bit in the past, ACOK gives us many parallel chapters where we see the impact of one character’s decisions or events through another characters eyes. With this chapter, we’re heading into a section where the parallels are flying at the reader faster and faster as we move towards convergence on Winterfell and King’s Landing. So for example, Bran V, Sansa III, Arya VIII, and Catelyn V are all reacting to the Battle of Oxcross from different perspectives, and Cat’s chapters and Arya VIII both give us a view of the resulting Battle of the Fords from different perspectives, and Bran and Theon’s chapters are giving us the Ironborn invasion of the North from different perspectives.

Now on with the chapter, because this one has a lot going on.

The War and the First Dream

The chapter opens with a scene of Bran receiving a raven “from His Grace, with both good news and ill. He has won a great victory in the west, shattering a Lannister army at a place named Oxcross, and has taken several castles as well. He writes to us from Ashemark, formerly the stronghold of House Marbrand.” This letter does work on a number of different levels – on the surface, we learn that Robb has moved from his victory at Oxcross to capture a key castle in the Westerlands (which is also important for building up Robb as the invincible general that House Stark is putting its trust in). Secondly, we get a sense of how Bran looks at the war:

“Was it Lord Tywin he defeated?” asked Bran.

“No,” said the maester. “Ser Stafford Lannister commanded the enemy host. He was slain in the battle.”

“Lord Tywin is the only one who matters.”

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:

“My lords, your uncle Ser Stevron Frey was among those who lost their lives at Oxcross. He took a wound in the battle, Robb writes. It was not thought to be serious, but three days later he died in his tent, asleep.”

Big Walder shrugged. “He was very old. Five-and-sixty, I think. Too old for battles. He was always saying he was tired.”

Little Walder hooted. “Tired of waiting for our grandfather to die, you mean. Does this mean Ser Emmon is the heir now?”

“Don’t be stupid…the sons of the first son come before the second son. Ser Ryman is next in line, and then Edwyn and Black Walder and Petyr Pimple. And then Aegon and all his sons.”

“Ryman is old too…past forty, I bet. And he ha a bad belly. Do you think he’ll be lord?”

“I’ll be lord. I don’t care if he is.”

“…Where is your grief? Your uncle is dead.”

“Yes…we’re very sad.”

I’m going to be talking a lot about prophecy later on, but it’s noteworthy that the prophecy in question isn’t particularly difficult to parse – meat equals news, fresh is fresh and old is old. But it’s important that we get this confirmation now, before we get into the prophecy-heavy section of the chapter, so that when Jojen goes full-on doomsaying we believe him.

It’s also useful information because we get a real glimpse into the twisted psyche of the Freys. In somewhat of an inversion of Tolstoy’s adage about unhappy families being unique in their unhappiness, for all of the families of Westeros, it is the nature of feudalism that ultimately is the root cause of their misery, although each manifest the injury in their own way. In the case of the Freys, it is the way in which the link between birth and power, the private and the public, and the way this sets kin against kin in the struggle for succession that has completely destroyed the love and affection that distinguishes a family from any other human organization. Big Walder is almost certainly a murderer, and he is completely lacking in any remorse for anyone that he ought to love, but he is a perfectly raised Frey in his namesakes’ image.

Crisis on the Periphery

Also in this chapter, echoing the foreboding of Jojen’s visions, we get signs of the crises that will bring down the North. However, in strong contrast to the usual cosmic apocalypse obviousness of such threats in most fantasy novels, here the threats are low-key, entirely human in nature, and totally ignored. Here’s how Maester Luwin describes it:

“There is trouble along the Stony Shore. Raiders in longships, plundering fishing villages. Raping and burning. Leobald Tallhart has sent his nephew Benfred to deal with them, but I expect they’ll take to their ships and flee at the first sight of armed men.”

Second-time readers know that this is Theon’s raiding party, which will shortly capture Winterfell, in no small part because Ser Rodrik never provided Benfred with any training, or oversight from a more experienced commander. And yet, it’s completely ignored. Which is hilarious, because Balon’s whole plan assumes that Theon will “draw some of the northern lords out from behind their stone walls…when my sons have struck their blows, Winterfell must respond.” Yet if Theon hadn’t departed from the plan – something I’ll discuss in Theon III – Winterfell wouldn’t have responded at all, and could have potentially sent their army to trap the Iron Fleet in Moat Cailin, crippling Balon’s plan for a conquest of the North.

There’s an element of synecdoche here: just as the game of thrones and its logical conclusion, the War of Five Kings, is distracting Westeros from the true threat of the White Walkers, here the Hornwood Affair is distracting the North from the Ironborn invasion:

“…Ser Rodrik returned to Winterfell with his prisoner, a fleshy young man with fat moist lips and long hair who smelled like a privy, even worse than Alebelly had. “Reek, he’s called,” Hayhead said when Bran asked who it was. “I never heard his true name. He served the Bastard of Bolton and helped him murder Lady Hornwood, they say.”

The Bastard himself was dead, Bran learned that evening over supper. Ser Rodrik’s men had caught him on Hornwood land doing something horrible (Bran wasn’t quite sure what, but it seemed to be something you did without your clothes) and shot him down with arrows as he tried to ride away. They came too late for poor Lady Hornwood, though. After their wedding, the Bastard had locked her in a tower and neglected to feed her. Bran had heard men saying that when Ser Rodrik had smashed down the door he found her with her mouth all bloody and her fingers chewed off.

There is a certain tautology here – Ser Rodrick lacks the strength to stop the Boltons and Manderlys because in this kind of a feudal society, his army would be made up largely of Boltons and Manderlys. Ser Rodrik himself has only 600 Winterfell men, plus another 300 Cerwyn men, close at hand, who make up the remaining strength of House Stark itself, while the strength of the North is much, much larger, but divided against itself. What we are seeing here is the typical weakness of feudal societies, whereby the king or liege lord’s distribution of lands to his vassals leaves him with insufficient power to suppress power conflicts between his vassals. These petty wars, although small in scale, were a bit like guerrilla conflicts in the way that they could drag on for years if not decades, racking up the body count and the destroyed property. It was these wars that helped to justify the so-called New Monarchies of the 15th and 16th centuries – royal taxation and standing armies were rarely popular on their own but as protection from the nobility, they had a certain charm. Just ask the Tudors.

It’s not a good sign for the Starks as effective rulers of the North, therefore, that they’ve gone from being the arbiters of feudal demesnes to being unable to protect their vassals from each other to worrying about whether the Boltons will give up their claim to the Hornwood lands.

Speaking of the Boltons, let’s talk about the capture of Reek. This is a quietly crucial turning point for the plot, because if Reek had been executed on the spot as a murderer and defiler of corpses, then it’s quite likely that the plan to “kill” Bran and Rickon doesn’t come to pass, and that Winterfell is successfully retaken by the North and isn’t burnt to the ground because Ser Rodrik wouldn’t have been bushwhacked by Ramsay. It’s also a quietly crucial turning point for character as well, as Reek would not have been the demon on Theon’s shoulder, prompting him to follow his worst instincts.

On Prophecy

However, that’s the end of the non-metaphysical section of this chapter – now, with confidence that we now have in Jojen’s ability to see the future, we plunge headlong into prophecy and mysticism:

“I dreamed that the sea was lapping all around Winterfell. I saw black waves crashing against the gates and towers, and then the salt water came flowing over the walls and filled the castle. Drowned men were floating in the yard. When I first dreamed the dream, back at Greywater, I didn’t know their faces, but now I do. That Alebelly is one, the guard who called our names at the feast. Your septon’s another. Your smith as well.”

“Mikken?” Bran was as confused as he was dismayed. “But the sea is hundreds and hundreds of leagues away, and Winterfell’s walls are so high the water couldn’t get in even if it did come.”

“I dreamed of the man who came today, the one they call Reek. You and your brother lay dead at his feet, and he was skinning off your faces with a long red blade…I couldn’t see why, but I saw the end of it. I saw you and Rickon in your crypts, down in the dark with all the dead kings and their stone wolves”

As with the first dream, this is not abstract or occult – the water representing the Iron Islanders is not exactly “you will destroy a great empire.” But the fact that George R.R Martin goes in for an obvious metaphor is actually a magic trick – it’s meant to make you think that Bran and Rickon might have their faces flayed off (an early clue to Reek’s identity there) and be dead, because every other prophecy was straightforward. It’s the flashy Turn to the first dream’s Pledge – not so much to make the reveal that Bran and Rickon are actually alive in the crypts more impressive, but to make the deaths of the miller’s boys, their impact on Theon, and the truth of Reek’s identity that much more amazing.

At the same time, Bran V also gives us a sustained investigation of prophecy and what it means for the free will of Bran, but by extension of all of the characters. (Before reading this section, you might want to listen Bran begins with the question of whether the prophecy can be forestalled to save others:

 “We have to tell them…Alebelly and Mikken, and Septon Chayle. Tell them not to drown.”

“It will not save them…”

…he tried to warn others about what Jojen had seen, but it didn’t go as he wanted. 

So far, predestination is winning. Now Bran and consider whether prophecy can be forestalled to save himself:

“If I went to the dungeon, I could drive a spear right through his heart. How could he murder Bran if he was dead?”

“The gaolers will stop you…the guards. And if you tell them why you want him dead, they’ll never believe…they won’t be able to stop him, Bran…it will not matter. The dream was green, Bran, and the green dreams do not lie.”

A second strike against free will. But then Bran asks the ultimate question about the purpose of prophecy in a world of predestination:

“Why would the gods send a warning if we can’t heed it and change what’s to come?”

“I don’t know.”

Not very satisfying, is it? But hang on a second…Jojen just said that Bran and Rickon were doomed to die, because “the things I see in green dreams can’t be changed.” But we second-time readers know that Bran and Rickon aren’t going to die, simply that they are going to hide in the crypts of Winterfell when Ramsay obscures their identity. In other words, Jojen makes the opposite mistake from Melisandre. She clearly believes that destiny can be changed (although she pretends otherwise) through the providence of R’hllor, and thus brings about “the ghost of Renly” beneath the walls of Blackwater due to her failure of interpretation (although it’s not clear whether that’s a case of Can’t Fight Fate or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy). He believes destiny can’t be changed, but misses how his prophecy itself is the solution to avoiding its supposed outcome. The problem with Jojen and Melisandre’s prophetic certainty that destiny trumps free will is that it hinges on an imperfect understanding of what that destiny is – which calls into question how perfect their understanding of prophecy and thus free will is.

In the podcast linked above, I suggest that prophecy in Westeros seems to be acting like signals sent from the future back in time, causing ripples as they go. In other words, prophecy seems to be acting less like the will of the gods and more like time travel, which given what we learn of Bran’s future abilities might actually be the case. Which raises an interesting metaphysical question: does prophecy eliminate free will if an individual’s decision to change the past creates those prophecies?

credit to teiiku

Bran’s Nature

In addition to these questions, Bran V also gives us an exploration of Bran himself as a shaman figure and a hero on the proverbial journey:

“Warg. Shapechanger. Beastling. That is what they will call you, if they should ever hear of your wolf dreams…your own folk. In fear. Some will hate you if they know what you are. Some will even try to kill you.”

“The wolf dreams are no true dreams. You have your eye closed tight whenever you’re awake, but as you drift off it flutters open and your soul seeks out its other half. The power is strong in you.”

“I don’t want it. I want to be a knight.”

“A knight is what you want. A warg is what you are. You can’t change that, Bran, you can’t deny it or push it away. You are the winged wolf, but you will never fly…unless you open your eye.”

“How can I open it if it’s not there?”

“You will never find the eye with your fingers, Bran. You must search with your heart…or are you afraid?

“Maester Luwin says there’s nothing in dreams a man need fear.”

“There is…the past. The future. The truth.”

As other people have noted, GRRM plays his genre cards straight a lot more than he’s perceived as doing. Most of this is extremely straightforward Campbellian convention: the hero is hated and feared for their specialness (which feeds into the whole hero-as-martyr trope) and thus must leave their childhood home, Bran refuses the call perfunctorily, the hero is called upon to find apotheosis and enlightenment, and so on and so forth. What is interesting is that, at the very same time that Bran is going through these steps, at least part of him has moved onto the next step and already knows where he’s going:

 “Do you know the way north? To the Wall and…even past?”

“And are there still giants there….and the children of the forest too?”

“Did you ever see a three-eyed crow?”

In both the shamanic tradition and Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, there’s a strong element of psychological liminality – because the hero/shaman is supposed to straddle the mundane and the spiritual, their selves are divided between the conscious and the unconscious and the natural and the supernatural. Having Bran simultaneously cling to his childhood dream of knighthood while planning to travel north to meet the three-eyed crow is a good way to accomplish this while tamping down on the more annoying qualities of this stage in the Hero’s Journey.

At the same time, I also want to point out something I find odd – namely, given the tie between warging and the greensight, and in turn between greensight and the Old Gods, why would Northmen raised in the Old Ways be hostile to a warg? Why isn’t the attitude of the crannogmen, that mystic gifts indicate a connection to the Children of the Forest and thus the divine, universal across the North? It’s certainly true that the World of Ice and Fire gives us examples of Starks warring with warg kings supported by Children of the Forest, but it seems to me a conflict within GRRM’s world-building.

Historical Analysis:

This will have to be a placeholder, I’m afraid, because while I wanted to say something here about how the ancient Greeks dealt with the topic of free will and prophecy, it wasn’t really going below the surface and rather than put up something sub-standard. However, I will replace this once I have a bit more time to go back and re-read the Iliad and the Odyssey so that I can do a proper job on it.

What If?

The idea of predestination makes this section philosophically problematic, but for the sake of consistency, let’s press ahead:

  • Reek had been killed? I’ve already discussed some of the immediate consequences of Reek’s death for the North, but let’s talk about the long-term implications. If Bran and Rickon aren’t “killed,” then it’s likely that Robb isn’t in need of “comforting” by Jeyne Westerling, and Catelyn isn’t desperate enough to free Ser Jaime Lannister. And if Winterfell is retaken, then Robb has no immediate need to travel back to the North. While I’m firmly of the belief that Walder Frey would have betrayed Robb regardless of Jeyne Westerling, I do think that these events collective butterfly away the Red Wedding as the loss of Winterfell seems to be Roose’s green light for betrayal, I don’t see Walder acting without Roose’s help, and Jaime’s presence in Riverrun further complicates the scenario for Tywin.
  • Winterfell had heeded Bran’s warning? To an extent, this falls into a similar problem with Arya’s warnings from AGOT, but let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Bran and Jojen accurately interpret the prophecy and hold back enough troops to prevent Theon’s 30 men from taking Winterfell, leaving them exposed in the interior. It’s quite astonishing how quickly everything falls apart for the Ironborn – with 900 men, Ser Rodrick could easily capture Theon and disperse Dagmer Cleftjaw’s force. Which raises the interesting question: what happens when Balon dies but the North holds Theon?

Book vs. Show:

The major change in Season 2 to this plotline, as I discussed last time, is the removal of the Reeds. Here, the key consequence is that Jojen’s visions (or at least the vision of the waves drowning Winterfell) get off-loaded onto Bran, which has the interesting consequence of making Bran much more clearly a prophet figure than he is in the books. Indeed, what with all of Bran’s tree-touching in Season 4, and the show’s habit (or need) to keep the wolves to a minimum, I would argue that show-watchers probably associate Bran more as someone who can see the future (and maybe secondarily as someone who can possess humans) than as a warg.

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82 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran V, ACOK

  1. David Hunt says:

    If Ser Rodrick captured Theon, I don’t see events going too much different on the Ironborn side when Balon dies. Euron still sail into port the day after his Faceless Man kills Balon. The same succession fight and Kingsmoot happens. Euron still makes his mad plans with the attacks on the Reach and sends Victarian to Meereen with the Horn.

    As to everyone else…The North may be more successful in driving the Iron Born out of the North. I’m not sure that Roose would have betrayed Robb if Winterfell hadn’t fallen. He was definitely being treacherous, arranging for his rivals to take all the hard hits before, but I’m not sure that he was working directly against Robb’s interests before Theon took Winterfell. The first sign of overt treason that I remember is when he orders the attack on Duskendale in ACOK in Arya/Nan’s presence. .As to Walder Frey, as long as thngs kept going Robb’s way, he’d stay loyal. I can’t say if the Iron Born invasion was enough to move him toward switching sides, or if it was Theon taking Winterfell.

    • John says:

      Right, from the perspective of the Iron Islands, Theon as captive in Winterfell isn’t too different from Theon as captive in the Dreadfort. I suppose that the firm knowledge that Theon is alive, as compared to the uncertainty in OTL, might make support for Theon stronger, which could potentially mess with the Kingsmoot a bit, but I still think Euron wins.

      Walder Frey, I think, probably stays minimally loyal so long as Robb doesn’t marry Jeyne Westerling. After the Blackwater, he’d probably still be looking for a way out, but Robb’s position is much stronger here. Big question, I think, is what happens to Moat Cailin if Theon is immediately defeated or Winterfell retaken. Does Victarion continue to hold it until he departs for the Kingsmoot, or does it get retaken by Ser Rodrik before that? If the latter, Victarion and Theon might *both* be Northern prisoners when Balon dies. In which case you might not even get a Kingsmoot, since Aeron doesn’t have a candidate.

      • juan says:

        Or Victarion, with a larger force and the Manderlys at war with the Boltons, rides directly to Winterfell. A tricky proposition, because the cragnomen should be able to weaken his host until the make it out of the Neck. But if he has enough men when he makes out of the Neck and Lady Dustin doesn’t intercept him (as she would fear a naval attack against her holdings), then Victarion could have a shot at holding Winterfell.
        In the long term, he’d get isolated there, but the damage would be done

        • John says:

          Victarion isn’t an independent thinker. His brother told him to hold Moat Cailin, and that’s what he’ll do.

    • Well, with Theon in pocket, Asha might deal to get rid of Euron.

      Re: Roose and Walder – it comes down to calculations of risk. With the North in Robb’s hands, attacking Robb means Roose risks the Dreadfort. And without Roose, Walder doesn’t have the manpower to pull off the Red Wedding without risking the Twins.

  2. KrimzonStriker says:

    On the last bit regarding the attitude against Warging and Greenseers, my take on the matter has always been that The First Men adopted a divergent practice regarding their worship of the Old Gods from the Children that essentially streamlined the whole process for the ordinary man to understand and accept. Given the many cases of different interpretations of various faith which would have been exacerbated by conflict between the First Men and the Children along with the wars against the Warg I wouldn’t find it surprising if there was a hint of religious tension as well involved. While they might have come to respect their differences after the peace and united against the Others tensions and suspicions regarding certain practices would have likely remained.

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      Stuff like that would have also gotten muddied once the Andals came calling as well. Remember that while the North has always been an independent realm for the First Men Andal blood HAS been seeping in slowly and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few superstitions/viewpoints from the Faith made it across given how the viewed the Children as demonic hellspawn and their craft witchery.

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      You can even see the divergent practices and superstitions regarding warging and greenseeing etc. even now if we examine the differences between the Wildlings and the Northmen despite their shared worship of the Old Gods.

    • I can see divergent practice. I don’t see how a druidic like caste that clearly existed in the Riverlands (the Green Men) has no trace in the North.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        I think that would largely depend on the the relationship and exchange between the various First Men and Children of the Forest in order to spur/support such a druidic order though. The only authority we know of within the Old God religion are greenseers of and Children, there’s no formal hierarchy or doctrine to organize around. By and large the Pact was simply an enforcement of boundaries between the First Men and the Children, not a formal establishment of relations and exchanges (especially genetic exchanges to create a viable greenseer minority amongst the First Men themselves). Doubtlessly that starts to shrink and die down even further as the Children depart from most of Westeros. Without the odd exception of those exchanges, as the Green Men on the Isles seem to be if rumors of them harboring Children are true, it all devolves to local practices influenced by the history of the various regions, like those wars with the Warg King.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        I mean, how are we going to organize Drudic orders based around Greenseers and warging with no Greenseers? Lack of interaction just lets people speculate and spout superstition, not establish actual practices and rituals.

  3. winnie says:

    I agree that Walder is unlikely to try the Red Wedding without Roose’s help and as you point out if Winterfell isn’t taken Roose might not have risked open treachery. And besides having Jamie as a hostage to stay Tywin’s hand they wouldn’t lose the Karstark support either so Robb’s in a much better position.

    And for that matter Sansa might never have had to marry Tyrion since she wouldn’t be the “last Stark heir.”

    I agree with David that events on Pyke would have played out the same after Balon’s death-(though I suppose his people might have soured on the Northern invasion even earlier) I think the only important difference would be that Theon if he survived would still have his manhood and thus a chance of fathering heirs someday.

    • Mitch says:

      Sincere question: Does anybody think that Walder/Roose make a move without Tywin’s blessing?

      The thing about such open treachery on these two’s part is they need a safe harbor to run to when the deed is done (i.e. the protection of the Lannister/Tyrells). And I can’t see Tywin ever sanctioning the Red Wedding so long as Jamie is still captive and almost assuredly would be killed in retaliation.

      • jpmarchives says:

        Roose maybe, Walder never.

        • Ian G. says:

          I agree – I think it’s not quite accurate to say that Roose needs a safe harbor. He obviously wants one, but I think his conduct in ADWD pretty clearly indicates that he knows he needs to sink or swim on his own.

          The man’s an opportunist. If he sees an opportunity to supplant the Starks, he’ll take it. If not, he’ll work to aggrandize House Bolton as much as is possible under the Stark regime.

          The Red Wedding, to my mind, is best thought of as Tywin and Roose allying for convenience, with Walder as their tool, rather than as Tywin using both Bolton and Frey as tools. If there was no opportunity at the time to supplant the Starks, Frey might very well have tried to switch sides, but Roose would have continued to bide his time.

          • It’s less a safe harbor and more about what he gets out of it. Without Tywin’s backing, openly betraying the Starks means being Public Enemy #1 in the North. With Tywin’s backing, he gets the Wardenship, the backing of the Crown, a Stark for his kid to marry, and even with that he might not hold onto the North.

  4. David Hunt says:

    I had a thought about the Northern superstitious fear of wargs. Krimzon Striker has some good points about Andal influence seeping in and I thought of what may be the main vector of that meme: maesters.

    If you want to be considered a lord of any importance at all, you have to have a maester and they’re so darn useful too. They manage the raven network that keeps you up to date on matters in the greater world. They treat injuries and illness and are accomplished at midwifery as well if Luwin is typical. All of this makes lords more willing to listen to their counsel and this is how their agenda of making the world less magical gets into the system. It doesn’t even have to be deceptive on the part of the maesters in the keeps. These guys are simply trained to always see a mundane explanation for anything short of a corpse getting up and dancing a jig. The seed is planted in the higher-ups that anything like a warg is unnatural and wrong and this attitude filters down through society. Wargs go from revered holy men to rebels to outlaws to monsters over time. As a sidenote, Howland Reed may not have a master as there he has no use for someone to keep ravens and his children have no superstitious dread of wargs.

    Just my two cents.

    • Sean C. says:

      I don’t really believe that, because the maesters’ stance on wargs wouldn’t seem to be that they’re bad, but rather than they don’t exist, or else have some “logical” explanation.

    • winnie says:

      Excellent point. After all they did help kill the dragons which while not indefensible was dramatic evidence that they have no use for magic and would consciously or not try to sideline it. With the notable exception of Aemon you didn’t see any of worrying about the White Walkers because they can’t fit it into their own world view.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        Still not buying the dragons thing myself, don’t see a motive yet. And seriously, can people stop ganging up on the dragons? Steel or fire the true culprit will always be men and dragons can be used for both great and terrible things depending on how they’re used. you can’t point the finger at EVERY maester at the very least if you’re going to post a conspiracy with how many maesters can have varying loyalties or personalities whatever the oath. I agree that the maseters logical view of the world probably helped diminished warging and the greensight to myth and superstition however.

        • Grant says:

          The sheer destructive power of the dragons wasn’t motive enough? There’s lots said about how dangerous humans are, but really a human isn’t that dangerous to a whole group usually. We don’t know when this alleged conspiracy would have happened, but quite possibly soon after the Dance of Dragons and all the destructive force that would have been displayed. I’d have been considering getting rid of them at a time like that. Then there’s all the other things magic has been established to be capable of, like taking over someone’s body.

          As for whether or not it did happen, it seems really suspicious that the dragons, creatures that the Targaryens were very familiar with and relied on for power, would suddenly start to develop poorly and die off like that when the Targaryens had no such problems in the past.

          Now it is true that clearly magic never went entirely away, but it’s also made clear that for a while after the dragons died magic was considerably weaker.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            And I could argue the potential good they can bring going back to Aegon’s unification of the Seven Kingdoms or the rise of the greatest empire in the world in Valyria or the many abundant secret techniques like Valyrian steel associated with it. The Dorthrakhi and the mountain of skulls and destroyed civilization is one example of when that can be the case, or the slavery trade in general going by Steven’s numbers on the daily rejects amongst the Unsullied alone. Many people lament the creation of nuclear weapons but despite the potential danger both their advancement of the human race AND their dissuading of a major armed conflict led in no small part as to why World War 3 has yet to occur. As a resource dragons to me far outweight their use as assets versus the negative drawbacks. Which the Citadel has also established a division of study for, being superstitious of magic feels more in line with religious institutions.

            There weren’t many healthy adult ones by this the end of the Dance nor many remaining Targaryeans who would have been old enough known to handle or care for Dragons which is suggested given that Viserys and Aegon III had to outsource for help. Even IF I was concede a conspiracy to kill the dragons that’s still different from an ADDITIONAL conspiracy to bring down the Targaryens as well.

            Magic was considerably weaker after the DOOM of Valyria though, most if not all the magical techniques were lost and not even the Targayreans had a means to recreate it. Not to mention the Andal invasion beforehand that wiped out greenseeing through the hunting down of the Elder races. Nobodies going to suggest a maester conspiracy then as well are they? The Faceless men might be one thing with their insular attitude and dedication to a superstitious cause but to me an institution as widely spread out and divergent as the maesters is probably the worst kind of place to keep a large spanning conspiracy under raps with known changes in allegiances amongst its members and especially when we KNOW Targaryeans were also accepted and rose highly in their ranks.

          • Hedrigal says:

            Valyria is also very easy to look at as a corrupt evil empire deserving of destruction, and who created that catastrophe with their own decadence. Even if the Maesters will put a rational spin on that, when you’re talking about human action triggering fourteen volcanoes at once you’re describing a mythical event with a message.

        • People killed with swords and with atom bombs, but the threat of atom bombs is of a different scale than that of swords.

    • KrimzonStriker says:

      His castle moves though so he kind of needs ravens for anyone to find him and send him a message…

      • David Hunt says:

        It was my understanding (perhaps flawed) that the fact that Greywater Watch moves meant that ravens couldn’t find it. Thus Reed and the rest of the Crannogmen are more isolated than almost any other group.

        • KrimzonStriker says:

          Men definitely can’t find it, that much I’m sure of. And given that Ravens can track down their homes from any location and don’t need things like trails etc I always assumed myself their internal compass would be able to track the castle down even if it was moving. In any event that Robb sent word to Reed/Greywater watch when a regular horseback courier likely wouldn’t be able to carry that message I can only assume a raven did it then.

          • David Hunt says:

            Per the Wiki of Ice and Fire article on Greywater Watch: “It is a castle[4] built upon a crannog, one of the man-made floating islands of the swamps, and it does not stay in the same place, making it impossible for ravens or enemies to find.[5] According to Meera Reed, there is no maester there, nor any knights or masters-at-arms.[6]”

            The links didn’t come with the text that I pasted, but the note [5] about ravens not being able to find the castle references World of Ice and Fire and Note [6] about there being no maester at Greywater references the very chapter Steven is discussing with this post.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            How Robb ever got a message there then I’ll never know….

          • David Hunt says:

            Oops. Forgot to address how Robb can send word to Reed or any of the Crannogmen. He sends a messenger into the Neck carrying a banner with the Stark dire wolf on it. The Crannogmen find the guy and take him to Reed or whatever House the message is going to. For example, just before the Red Wedding, Robb sends Maege Mormont and Galbart Glover, carrying his instructions to Reed for his role in retaking Moat Cailen, into the Neck on Longships flying the Stark banner, knowing that the Crannogmen will reveal themselves and take them to Howland Reed.

          • John says:

            A Search of Ice and Fire gives no indication of any mention in World of Ice and Fire of ravens in association with Greywater Watch.

          • witlesschum says:

            I think you just send someone into the swamp flying the direwolf and Howland Reeds’ people find you, or something along those lines.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Ah cool that makes more sense. I worry about false-flag operation possibilities, though they likely interrogate any messenger and/or blind said messenger before taking them to Greywater.

          • Hedrigal says:

            THats the point. Only Crannogmen can find it, so any message has to be delivered in person by walking into the Neck and flagging down the first Crannog you find and asking them to take you to Greywater Watch.

    • Mitch says:

      You’ve in all likelihood put more thought into this comment than George Martin put into the Northerner’s distrust of wargs, but I like your logic and you’ve won me over to your side.

  5. John says:

    I’d go to Herodotus for prophecies. A lot of the iconic ambiguous prophecies come from there, don’t they?

  6. SummerIsComing says:

    You must know some people who watch GoT and have never read a page of ASOIAF, right? I think just based on the show only that you’d get Bran is a warg since he’s done a bunch of time.

  7. witlesschum says:

    Regarding skinchangers, seems to me the Varymyr chapter in ADWD suggested there was definitely some fear and uneasiness toward them even among the wildlings. Varymyr does terrible things, so people obviously fear him sensibly, but it also sounds like skinchangers are expected to live apart from other wildlings and just generally seen as frightening.

    • Mitch says:

      Very true. It was largely to his benefit to portray himself as a god-like or mystical force that needed to be appeased with gifts of food and women. Minimal effort on his part nets him getting all his basic needs met in an especially harsh climate.

      I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that this was a common operating style for most skinchangers.

      • Andrew says:

        Neither would I be surprised given the anarchy of wildling culture with a lack of laws and authority to restrain men like Varamyr and the Weeper. This is a culture where it is acceptable for the strong to take from the weak. People seize on whatever advantage they have. Varamyr exacted tribute from nearby villages in the form of foodstuffs from agriculture.

        Women weren’t made gifts to Varamyr he kidnapped them.

        • Mitch says:

          Ah, it’s been almost three years since I read that chapter. Upon rereading, it sounds like he sent his shadowcat to the villages when he wanted a woman. They always came, sometimes crying, sometimes not; but always resentful of him.

          Coerced tribute or kidnapping, call it what you will. He seems a brutal man all the same.

          • Andrew says:

            Yeah, a he’s a real psychopath. He is a physically small, weak man, but his warging abilities give him his strength. He is an inversion of the underdog character who finds he has special powers, but he uses them to terrorize others and satisfy his own selfish desires. He kills his own mentor who practically raised him.

            In a typical story, he would the villain who the hero must slay to end his tyrannical reign over the community. He mentions many would be heroes come to try to slay him to save their lovers or female relatives, but he always kills them.

    • Crystal says:

      I think that’s a good clue as to why the Wildlings, if not the Northmen, are fearful of wargs. Someone like Varamyr can use the power to his own, selfish, ends, and cause harm in the process. “Hand over your daughters or my shadow cat will eat you!” That’s not going to make Varamyr any friends.

      There is also the fact that Bran winds up warging into Hodor later on. I know that, in theory, wargs are Absolutely Not Supposed To warg into other humans. But who knows how many wargs ignored that prohibition, especially in a time when wargs were more common. And, even if few wargs actually skin changed into humans (because it wasn’t that easy – Bran could only do it to Hodor because Hodor is mentally disabled) – it would be easy to fear that they *could.* Rather like “bears will eat you!” – few people get eaten by bears, but the thought that you COULD get eaten is frightening. “Wargs will skin change into YOU and make you their puppet!” is a scary thought.

      The Boltons flaying their enemies and sometimes wearing their skins as clothing makes me think of warging into humans gone terribly wrong (wronger than the original concept if that is possible). I surmise that the Boltons were originally wargs who didn’t confine their skin changing properties to animals, and the later Bolton tradition of flaying is an echo of that ability. Especially the tidbit that a Bolton king would flay his Stark enemy and wear the Stark skin as a cloak, makes me think the objective (subconsciously) was to warg into an actual Stark and control that Stark the way Bran could control Hodor.

      • zonaria says:

        I’d always thought the Boltons’ odd hobbies were a (magical, originally?) response to skinchanging, rather than skinchanging itself, probably because I associate the Starks rather than the Boltons with skinchanging. It also explains why the Boltons have been allowed to persist, despite being an unpleasant bunch – when there are nasty wargs and skinchangers overrunning the place, it is handy to have a few Boltons about.

        But that there is a link I do not doubt.

    • Sure. And in cultures that believed in shamans, they’re also figures of awe and fear. But there’s a difference between “hunted down” and “aloof figure of power.”

  8. Ian G. says:

    I have been chewing something over in my head for the past few weeks, and wanted to see if anyone thought it had any traction here. Does anyone else get the sense that Ramsey Bolton is an intentional subversion of the sort of rags-to-riches, secret prince trickster character we see in fairy tales sometimes?

    I mean, he’s obviously completely horrifying. But it seems to me that his story has a lot of echoes of stories like Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots and things of that nature – just with the unsavory, violent tricks shoved right in your face. Am I crazy, or does Ramsay’s transformation from Reek to the (temporary, thank gods) Prince of Winterfell have the shape of a fairy tale?

    • Space Oddity says:

      Oh, you’re absolutely right. Just as Falia Flowers is a sort of twisted Cinderella tale, Ramsay Bolton is very the twisting of the “Blood Running True” secret heir who overcomes a lowly birth to see his “true” rank revealed by a combination of his blood, and his wits.

      • winnie says:

        Or Baelish a subversion of the ‘self-made’ man mythos.

        • Space Oddity says:

          Baelish is like an evil(er) Jay Gatsby as a Condottieri descendent. “Twisted fraudulent self-made man” is practically in his DNA.

          • John says:

            He is Gatsby if Gatsby started perving on Pammy Buchanan.

          • Space Oddity says:

            As I said, evil(er) Jay Gatsby.

            With the extra twist that the Buchanan-equivalents are fine, upstanding people, thus underlining the evil.

    • jpmarchives says:

      I think that’s a good analysis. In fact, he even has the unbelievable luck of a romantic protagonist as well, since almost any lteration to the sequence of events in the North would end with his head on a pike. Instead he’s heir to the North.

      • Ian G. says:

        Now I think about it, this seems to inform the Pink Letter (assuming he wrote it.) The rage in it seems to be anger that this isn’t how the story is supposed to end.

    • Yeah, that’s a really good call. More to the point, he’s the anti-Jon Snow.

  9. Mitch says:

    My opinion is that neither Walder Frey nor Roose Bolton make a move against the Starks without Tywin’s explicit/implicit approval. So killing Reek/Ramsey upon capture takes the motivations for Red Wedding completely off the table for all the major players.

    Tywin will not risk his favorite son and desired heir while Jamie is still captive at Riverrun, and Frey & Bolton won’t openly betray their liege lord without guarantees of an improved station in the new Lannister/Tyrell monarchy.

  10. Andrew says:

    1. Drowning fits given the Ironborn’s use of it in their religion as a form of sacrifice and initiating one into the faith of the Drowned God with words starting with “what is dead.”.

    2. Bran dreams of wolves and crows (actually Bloodraven). Wolves and ravens were the messengers of one-eyed Odin who was given knowledge of all things granted by the shadowy figure of Mimir. Mimir derived his knowledge from a well, his home, beneath Yggdrasil the world tree in the frozen of the Jotunn (like the shadowy BR deriving his knowledge from the weirwoods in the frozen Lands Beyond the Wall being taken by the Others). I would go so far to say that BR has influences from both mythological figures.

  11. winnie says:

    On to another point of Steve’s…Big and Little Walder’s reaction to Stevron’s death “more for us!” Is more fuel to the speculation that Black Walder killed him and foreshadows the civil war about to break out at the Twins.

    • David Hunt says:

      Yeah, they didn’t QUITE say, “Yes. A boar killed. Very Sad.” But that was the feeling I got from that. Actually now that I think about it they were worse.

      • winnie says:

        I particularly enjoyed how Big Walder has the entire line of succession memorized and despite having literally dozens ahead of him insists HE will be Lord of the Crossing someday…what’s he gonna do arrange for mass ‘food poisoning’?

        Admittedly his chances have gone up a ways since the Red Wedding…

        • Space Oddity says:

          The worst part is something tells you Big Walder isn’t alone in that, among the Freys. “Wooo! Only fifteen more people between me and the succession.”

        • zonaria says:

          The Freys in the North are already dead or likely to die soon, whilst Big Walder is safe behind the walls of Winterfell. If there were to be bloodbaths at Riverrun and the Twins (not unlikely given the enemies they have made), he would be very close to his goal.

          • Space Oddity says:

            I think that’s how it will go down, actually–Big Walder will be heir to the Twins for a very brief while.

            But never Lord, because Lord Frey is destined to outlive all his male descendents, living to see the ruin of the house he clearly saw as eternal thanks to his efforts.

    • Crystal says:

      It seems like the Freys are going to do a bang-up job destroying themselves, even without the additional help from the BwB. Old Walder is the only thing keeping this in check, and, once he dies, I predict the whole family implodes.

    • Oh, Black Walder definitely killed him.

  12. Lann says:

    Re: the 2nd what if: I think that if Theon’s plan is foiled and he get captured Robb would decide to execute him, regardless of his hostage value. The only thing that may save him is the northern custom of who passes the sentence swings the sword which might buy him time since Robb is war in the south.

  13. The sea coming to Winterfell is very clear to me: Greyjoy involment in the destruction and death that comes to it, which ties with the following on Reek.

    On Reek and skinning Bran & Rickon’s faces, I think it hints at a Bolton involment (long red knife, skinning) and at Theon’s future as both Reek and his killing of the children and passing them off as Bran and Rickon.

    I know I’m concentrating on the deams & prophesies but I find them fascinating on the whole. How some try and force them into being, how some ignore the potential life saving and how some try to avoid them altogether.

    As usual, a great work Steve.

  14. jpmarchives says:

    I’m often amused by those who wish a violent Stark retribution upon the heads of the Freys. Such catharsis isn’t really Martin’s thing and besides; the monster eats itself. Tywin breaks every code of political and military conduct, but it’s his treatment of his son that dooms him. Joffrey treats everyone as an enemy beneath his boot, only to be killed by an ally. Cersei achieves her lifelong goal of power and immediately starts screwing it up as best she can.

    The total lack of morality in these characters inevitably turns inward once they run out of the good to destroy. When Walder dies, blood will run from the Twins without a single Stark sword needing to be unsheathed.

    • winnie says:

      Well it would *seem* that they were setting up a 2nd RW at Riverrun with Tom of Sevens but Frey Civil War, a disease outbreak, or falling prey to dragons or White Walkers seems more like Martin’s usual style.

      Cersei’s downfall resulting from her own stupidity is certainly the most entertaining in a sick sort of way. Even the Unsullied know full well there’s no way her current dealings with the HS or her feud with the Tyrell’s can end well for her.

      • Andrew says:

        I think Lord Walder will be killed in the 2nd RW at Riverrun. It will be interesting to see how tough he acts without his walls and his numerous brood to hie behind facing an undead Cat (hint: not very tough). I think his death will be followed by a Frey Civil War, and then Dany will arrive to give Black Walder the same treatment Aegon gave Black Harren.

    • Crystal says:

      While the BwB is poised to kill quite a few Freys, I think the real destruction is going to be self-inflicted. Once old Walder dies, it’s going to be every Frey for him or herself. Merrett Muttonhead saw that coming (though he didn’t live long enough to actually witness it) and Jaime seems to think that none of Walder’s heirs are capable of keeping the family together after the old man buys it.

      Just as Tywin destroyed his family’s legacy – one that he built up with so much effort – through his treatment of his children, especially Tyrion, I predict that Walder Frey will have destroyed his family’s legacy as well, through not keeping it in his pants or at least providing unlimited moon tea. Too many sons is as disastrous as none – just ask Henry II or Edward III, or William the Conqueror, for that matter.

    • I think this misses the point of Lady Stoneheart. From the Epilogue of ASOS to ADWD, Freys are dying like flies because nemesis is after them.

  15. […] that point in both directions. On the one hand, we could say that Ramsay’s actions in the Hornwood Affair are aimed at personally benefiting Ramsay, who as of yet is still an illegitimate child with no […]

  16. […] pitch works on a number of levels – it’s a call-back to Jojen’s dream from Bran V, it’s a reversal of Theon’s failed hunt for the direwolves, and it’s a way for […]

  17. […] we’ve been paying attention to the shamanistic aspect of Bran’s story, the fact that Bran has metaphorically come back from the dead […]

  18. Winters king says:

    my personal theory on the subject of why the north is apparently hostile to wargs, has to do with the andals and the maesters. i severly doubt that the first men had any problem with wargs and greenseers before the andals came. but the maesters probably did. as we all know, the maesters despise all sorts of magic, and they probably wanted to get ridd of the wargs and greenseers somehow.

    and they got an amazing oppurtunity with the andal invasions. the andals undoubtedly hated and feared the wargs, being that they were the closest the first men got to their own gods(which the andals regarded as demons), so they probably killed them whenever they could.

    and eventually the only large body of old god worshippers were in the north, where the maesters probably did all they could to 1. make the lords(and by extension the people serving them) hate and fear wargs, and 2. quietly making sure that any lords born with the greenseeing and warging died of “illness”. my personal pet theory is that the one who killed domeric bolton, wasnt actually his brother, ramsays mother or any obvious suspect, but rather his maester who realised that the boy might be a warg(which if it was the case, would probably explain why he was so damn good with a horse) and when ramsay showed up, he took the oportunity to put all the blame on him. this is all wild mass guessing of course, buy the maesters probably operates like this in regards to lordly wargs.

    it cant be a coincident that the only place that treats wargs and greenseers with reverance, are places where maesters rarely come(the neck and beyond the wall.

  19. […] know from before that Jojen wants Bran to go beyond the Wall, but the way that Meera phrases it here suggests that […]

  20. […] Frey’s death, likely at the hands of Black Walder, is precisely one of those dominoes that had to fall just right in order for the Red Wedding to […]

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