Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VII, ACOK

“war everywhere…each man against his neighbor, and winter coming…such folly, such black mad folly…”

Synopsis: Bran is risen. He is risen indeed.

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:

And so, at last, we come to the end of A Clash of Kings. It’s an interesting choice of final chapters – George R.R Martin chose to end not with Tyrion’s downfall (which would have privileged the King’s Landing/Battle of Blackwater arc) or with Dany (as was the case in AGOT), or with Arya who began the novel, but with Bran.

And I think there’s a reason for that. For all that GRRM is seen as a deconstructor of tropes, he uses them more than he’s given credit for and this is especially true with Bran. Bran VII marks a crucial step in Bran’s Hero’s Journey. He’s already had his Call to Adventure, his refusal of same, his Supernatural Aid, and now we get the Crossing of the First Threshold. Winterfell is gone and there is (at least for now) nothing to return to even if Bran wanted to. Thus, he has no choice but to embark on his adventure.

The Fall of Winterfell

Speaking of which, Bran VII opens with another wolf dream that shows us the damage that Ramsay hath wrought:

Men, many men, many horses, and fire, fire, fire. No smell was more dangerous, not even the hard cold smell of iron, the stuff of man-claws and hardskin. The smoke and ash clouded his eyes, and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame. He bared his teeth, but then the snake was gone. Behind the cliffs tall fires were eating up the stars.

All through the night the fires crackled, and once there was a great roar and a crash that made the earth jump under his feet. Dogs barked and whined and horses screamed in terror. Howls shuddered through the night; the howls of the man-pack, wails of fear and wild shouts, laughter and screams. No beast was as noisy as man.

In addition to the lupine imagery, one of the things we see from this dream is how much of a production the sack of Winterfell was. It wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision that was over and done with quickly, it took hours and hours of destruction; after all, Theon VI shows us that Ramsay won his battle while the sun was still in the sky and as this quote shows us, the sack continued all through the night. It’s an impressive commitment to destruction.

Once Bran and co. manage to escape from their confinement in the crypts (more on which later), we get to see this devastation in the light of day. And as they are touring the ruins of Winterfell, we begin to explore the significance of destruction:

The sky was a pale grey, and smoke eddied all around them. They stood in the shadow of the First Keep, or what remained of it. One whole side of the building had torn loose and fallen away. Stone and shattered gargoyles lay strewn across the yard. They fell just where I did, Bran thought when he saw them. Some of the gargoyles had broken into so many pieces it made him wonder how he was alive at all. Nearby some crows were pecking at a body crushed beneath the tumbled stone, but he lay facedown and Bran could not say who he was.

The callback to Bran’s fall from the tower is both deliberate and thorough – it’s more than just the location, it’s the gargoyles that were Bran’s handholds transformed into murder weapons, and the crows that are for Bran the signs and signifiers of prophecy are here rendered as mere scavengers, pecking at the dead body on the ground. Bran Stark is the shaman-king of the Old Gods and thus protected from death until his mission is done, but that does nothing to protect the unnamed man from getting his head staved in by a gargoyle.

And here is where we get GRRM’s commentary on Campbell; it’s not that the Hero’s Journey is entirely rendered false, but that we see the limits and costs of such a way of looking at the world. As we might expect from a story structure invented in a pre-modern world, the Hero’s Journey is a fundamentally aristocratic way of seeing the world, where those with special abilities or from special bloodlines are empirically better and born to rule. In a world divided between Chosen Ones and background characters, very few get handed plot armor and indeed their horrible deaths are required by the gods (i.e, by the writer) to increase the stakes for the main character. And the odds of being Chosen aren’t much better than the odds of being born a nobleman in a medieval world in which 90% or more of the population are peasants bound to the soil.

But beyond the meta-textual, there’s another significance to all of the destruction, which is to point out what a horrible, stupid waste the Sack of Winterfell was:

It took the rest of the morning to make a slow circuit of the castle. The great granite walls remained, blackened here and there by fire but otherwise untouched. But within, all was death and destruction. The doors of the Great Hall were charred and smoldering, and inside the rafters had given way and the whole roof had crashed down onto the floor. The green and yellow panes of the glass gardens were all in shards, the trees and fruits and flowers torn up or left exposed to die. Of the stables, made of wood and thatch, nothing remained but ashes, embers, and dead horses. Bran thought of his Dancer, and wanted to weep. There was a shallow steaming lake beneath the Library Tower, and hot water gushing from a crack in its side. The bridge between the Bell Tower and the rookery had collapsed into the yard below, and Maester Luwin’s turret was gone. They saw a dull red glow shining up through the narrow cellar windows beneath the Great Keep, and a second fire still burning in one of the storehouses.

All of the details of the sack point to how crucial and irreplaceable Winterfell is for the North’s chances of survival – the glass gardens that were the promise of fresh food in the midst of winter are broken and their precious crops spitefully ruined, the Great Hall which could keep so many people safe from the elements is exposed to the open sky, and worst of all, the stone walls through which the hot springs were so carefully channeled through are cracked and the life-giving water is spilling out like blood. If Roose Bolton was here, he would be calling for the leeches to purge the furious anger he would feel at the needless destruction of a valuable resource.

But as I’ve said elsewhere, the importance of Winterfell goes beyond the merely practical. Bran the Builder constructed the castle for a reason – as we learned in the World of Ice and Fire, it’s sitting on top of the same kinds of “furnaces of the world” that fuel Valyria and Dragonstone, both key mystical locales – and I think that purpose was to defeat the White Walkers in the Battle for the Dawn. If, as I believe, Winterfell is an engine for fighting the White Walkers, Ramsay Snow has thrown a giant money-wrench into the gears.

Waking and Warging

If Winterfell is gone, what of the once and future Prince of Winterfell? After all, if Bran is the wounded Fisher King of the North, for whom the health of the king is the health of the land and vice versa, how should the destruction of his realm affect him? Well, as is rather appropriate for not that long after Easter, Bran has slept the sleep of death for:

“Three days,” said Jojen. The boy had come up softfoot, or perhaps he had been there all along; in this blind black world, Bran could not have said. “We were afraid for you…”

“Bran,” a voice was whispering softly. “Bran, come back. Come back now, Bran. Bran…”

He closed his third eye and opened the other two, the old two, the blind two. In the dark place all men were blind. But someone was holding him. He could feel arms around him, the warmth of a body snuggled close. He could hear Hodor singing “Hodor, hodor, hodor,” quietly to himself.

“Bran?” It was Meera’s voice. “You were thrashing, making terrible noises. What did you see?”

“Winterfell.” His tongue felt strange and thick in his mouth. One day when I come back I won’t know how to talk anymore. “It was Winterfell. It was all on fire. There were horse smells, and steel, and blood. They killed everyone, Meera.”

If we’ve been paying attention to the shamanistic aspect of Bran’s story, the fact that Bran has metaphorically come back from the dead shouldn’t be surprising, because the role of the shaman is to stand as a liminal figure between the world of the living and the dead, the material and the supernatural, the waking and the dreaming. It’s noticeable, however, that Bran’s attitude to his supernatural power has completely changed. Where once he was resistant to the very idea, now Bran sees his normal eyes as blind and his third eye as his source of true (in)sight. At the same time, however, GRRM introduces us to the idea that there is a potential threat of the loss of identity should Bran spend too much time adrift from his human body:

“I was with Summer,” Bran said.

“Too long. You’ll starve yourself. Meera dribbled a little water down your throat, and we smeared honey on your mouth, but it is not enough.”

“I ate,” said Bran. “We ran down an elk and had to drive off a treecat that tried to steal him.” The cat had been tan-and-brown, only half the size of the direwolves, but fierce. He remembered the musky smell of him, and the way he had snarled down at them from the limb of the oak.

“The wolf ate,” Jojen said. “Not you. Take care, Bran. Remember who you are.”

He remembered who he was all too well; Bran the boy, Bran the broken. Better Bran the beastling. Was it any wonder he would sooner dream his Summer dreams, his wolf dreams? Here in the chill damp darkness of the tomb his third eye had finally opened. He could reach Summer whenever he wanted, and once he had even touched Ghost and talked to Jon. Though maybe he had only dreamed that. He could not understand why Jojen was always trying to pull him back now.

There’s a lot going on here: to begin with, there’s this running theme about the need for balance between the wolf and the man, the spiritual and the physical. Staying too long in the wolf dream, like staying too long in the spirit realm, threatens the ascetic’s death of drifting away into the ether. And for all that asceticism is romanticized, I don’t think there’s anything noble or enlightened about accidentally fasting yourself to death out of sheer absent-mindedness and neglect. At least Baelor the Blessed was consciously courting martyrdom.

The problem is that Bran doesn’t want to be balanced, because for him the wolf represents physical agency and ability, things his human body can no longer give him. Disability scholars have done a lot of interesting work on ASOIAF and HBO’s Game of Thrones, but one of the aspects of GRRM’s work that I really like is that Bran and others with disability aren’t depicted purely as quietly and patiently suffering and he’s allowed to be pissed off about his situation. At the same time, you do get the sense that Bran is going to have to move beyond self-hatred (more on this in a bit).

In addition, there’s the bit about Bran touching Jon’s wolf dream from Jon VII. I maintain that it’s still quite possible that this is Bran dreaming about doing this in the future – after all, he can travel through time through the weirwood net, and as this is well before Bran actually gets connected with the weirwood net in ADWD.

Life and Death in the Tombs

Speaking of the sleep of death and certain spiritual allusions, Bran VII is absolutely chock-full of references to death and resurrection. Let’s begin with the fact that Bran, who suffered a supposed death in Theon V, is shown alive down in the crypts under Winterfell:

When the shadows moved, it looked for an instant as if the dead were rising as well. Lyanna and Brandon, Lord Rickard Stark their father, Lord Edwyle his father, Lord Willam and his brother Artos the Implacable, Lord Donnor and Lord Beron and Lord Rodwell, one-eyed Lord Jonnel, Lord Barth and Lord Brandon and Lord Cregan who had fought the Dragonknight. On their stone chairs they sat with stone wolves at their feet. This was where they came when the warmth had seeped out of their bodies; this was the dark hall of the dead, where the living feared to tread.

And in the mouth of the empty tomb that waited for Lord Eddard Stark, beneath his stately granite likeness, the six fugitives huddled round their little cache of bread and water and dried meat.

I love that last paragraph – this little cluster of life finding shelter in the shadow of the death of the father.  However, the life and death imagery doesn’t end there: to begin with, there are the statures of the recent dead. What these recent dead have in common is that many (if not all) of them have died violent or untimely deaths – Eddard executed along with his father Rickard and his brother Brandon, Lyanna dead on her bed of blood, Willam beheaded at the Battle of Long Lake, Jonnel and Barth and Brandon who all reigned in the years remembered by the North as “the troubles.” And as any student of ghost stories know, violent and untimely deaths are how ghosts are summoned. And so the crypts of Winterfell become a place of dread, “where the living feared to tread,” because the dead are restless and seem willing to rise.

Now, some have interpreted this passage as suggesting that the dead of Winterfell will rise as wights during the final battle – as if Brandon the Builder would not have known or remembered the tactics of the enemies he fought. I disagree, because I think GRRM goes out of his way to balance that sense of dread and fear with a more positive attitude toward the dead:

A naked sword hung down her back, one of the last to bear Mikken’s mark. He had forged it for Lord Eddard’s tomb, to keep his ghost at rest. But with Mikken slain and the ironmen guarding the armory, good steel had been hard to resist, even if it meant grave-robbing. Meera had claimed Lord Rickard’s blade, though she complained that it was too heavy. Brandon took his namesake’s, the sword made for the uncle he had never known. He knew he would not be much use in a fight, but even so the blade felt good in his hand.

…The shadows behind them swallowed his father as the shadows ahead retreated to unveil other statues; no mere lords, these, but the old Kings in the North. On their brows they wore stone crowns. Torrhen Stark, the King Who Knelt. Edwyn the Spring King. Theon Stark, the Hungry Wolf. Brandon the Burner and Brandon the Shipwright. Jorah and Jonos, Brandon the Bad, Walton the Moon King, Edderion the Bridegroom, Eyron, Benjen the Sweet and Benjen the Bitter, King Edrick Snowbeard. Their faces were stern and strong, and some of them had done terrible things, but they were Starks every one, and Bran knew all their tales. He had never feared the crypts; they were part of his home and who he was, and he had always known that one day he would lie here too.

This paragraph, by context, shows Bran taking strength from the dead, both in the form of his uncle Brandon’s sword and the comfort he takes from the Kings of Winter. So overall, I think the death symbolism in this chapter draws more of its inspiration from Gothic horror where ghosts appear not as malevolent forces but representations of unfinished business and the need for closure.

On a different note, one of the disappointments of the World of Ice and Fire is how little of this history has been uncovered. We know a great deal about Theon the Hungry Wolf and why his legend has endured, we know a bit about Brandon the Shipwright and Brandon the Burner, and we’ve learned a little bit about Edrick Snowbeard, but there are so many thousands of years of history about which we know nothing. Given Westerosi naming conditions, we can assume that Edderion the Bridegroom made a particularly advantageous dynastic marriage that expanded House Stark’s territory, that Walton may have gone mad or possibly was a warg, and that Edwyn likely ruled after a long winter. But the rest are historical mysteries, still keeping their secrets in their crypts.

And Now For Some Actual Politics

Fortunately, not everything in Bran VII is Campbellian mythology and ghost stories; there’s still some time for politics in the midst of all this high fantasy palaver. The first thing to discuss is that, after they creep out of the crypts, Bran and Co. are some of the few people int he North who know the full story of what happened at Winterfell:

“If the gods are good,” Osha said in a low angry voice, “the Others will take them that did this work.”

“It was Theon,” Bran said blackly.

“No. Look.” She pointed across the yard with her spear. “That’s one of his ironmen. And there. And that’s Greyjoy’s warhorse, see? The black one with the arrows in him.” She moved among the dead, frowning. “And here’s Black Lorren.” He had been hacked and cut so badly that his beard looked a reddish-brown now. “Took a few with him, he did.” Osha turned over one of the other corpses with her foot. “There’s a badge. A little man, all red.”

“The flayed man of the Dreadfort,” said Bran.

That’s not to say they’re the only ones who know anything – the prisoners held at the Dreadfort know that Theon didn’t burn Winterfell to the ground (although they don’t know that Bran and Rickon are alive), the survivors of Ramsay’s ambush know that the Boltons betrayed the Starks before the Red Wedding, which by the end of ADWD means the Northern lords with Stannis and the Manderlys know, but they wouldn’t know what happened next. Likewise, the few prisoners held at the Twins or on the road know about Roose’s actions, but are ignorant of what really happened in the North. But Bran and co. know the most about what happened within and without Winterfell.

The treachery of the new information adds to the paranoid atmosphere of this chapter, because GRRM needs to sell why Bran Stark is going to go north of the Wall rather than flee to any number of loyalist holdfasts that still exist throughout the North. And this is further reinforced by their bittersweet reunion with Maester Luwin. As sweet as it is for Maester Luwin to die with the merciful knowledge that his charges are still alive, it’s still a moment rooted in deception:

Gently, they eased Luwin onto his back. He had grey eyes and grey hair, and once his robes had been grey as well, but they were darker now where the blood had soaked through. “Bran,” he said softly when he saw him sitting tall on Hodor’s back. “And Rickon too.” He smiled. “The gods are good. I knew…”

“Knew?” said Bran uncertainly.

“The legs, I could tell…the clothes fit, but the muscles in his legs…poor lad…” He coughed, and blood came up from inside him. “You vanished…in the woods…how, though?”

“We never went,” said Bran. “Well, only to the edge, and then doubled back. I sent the wolves on to make a trail, but we hid in Father’s tomb.”

“The crypts.” Luwin chuckled…

Luwin knew the truth, but kept it to himself, not only from Theon (which if you stop to think about is a pretty significant violation of his oath as a maester) but also from the smallfolk of Winterfell, a decision not without its cost in human lives. Likewise, Luwin was himself deceived by Bran, Rickon, and Osha as to their hiding place, a clear example of the value of compartmentalization. This focus on deception and mistrust moves from subtext to text when Luwin doles out his final advice about:

“…where to take them?”

“…Maester Luwin shook his head, though it was plain to see what the effort cost him. “Cerwyn boy’s dead. Ser Rodrik, Leobald Tallhart, Lady Hornwood…all slain. Deepwood fallen, Moat Cailin, soon Torrhen’s Square. Ironmen on the Stony Shore. And east, the Bastard of Bolton.”

“Then where?” asked Osha.

“White Harbor…the Umbers…I do not know…war everywhere…each man against his neighbor, and winter coming…such folly, such black mad folly…”

To me, this quote sums up Bran’s A Clash of Kings storyline. Winterfell fell to the enemy and then was sacked and torched by its own because of selfish political divisions within the North. While certainly the 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, Cassels, and Tallharts – are dead both because of poor command decisions and because of a failure to mobilize and coordinate the North’s military resources. And the Manderlys, Karstarks, and Umbers were so focused on their own political gain that they were unable to help when there was still time to put things right. The sad truth of it is that, if Bran had fled to White Harbor or Karhold or Last Hearth, he would have become a pawn in their Northern game of thrones, just as poor Rickon may yet be.

And the “mad, black folly” of it all is that, in its hour of maximum danger, the North indulged in a civil war it could not afford in the midst of an Ironborn invasion, an incomplete mobilization for the War of Five Kings, the arrival of Mance Rayder and his wildlings, and the White Walkers who come after. As I’ve argued before, had the North been truly unified and made full use of its resources, it may have dealt with most of these: the Ironborn invasion certainly, the southern campaign would have been greatly changed by the lack of a need to relieve the North and if Robb Stark had ten thousand more men under his command, and the Wall certainly would have gotten the assistance it desperately needed during the Battle of Castle Black. Whether they could have dealt with the White Walkers, we have yet to see.

And it’s here that the political and the metaphysical converge. The division of the North is the “push” factor that means Bran cannot stay at home and must go beyond the Wall, while destiny acts as the “pull factor,” pointing to the direction he should follow. Thus, Jojen (and it might as well be GRRM himself) says “our road is north.” Because otherwise the story can’t continue.

Broken But Not Dead

One final thought about A Clash of Kings before we go. If you want to know where Bran’s story is going to end, I think this chapter gives us a giant honking clue:

The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.

Especially after ADWD, many people have assumed that Bran’s destiny is to replace Brynden Rivers as the last greenseer enthroned in the weirwood tree. I disagree. Firstly, Brynden entombing himself was clearly not sufficient to prevent the White Walkers from awakening, so I would argue that Brynden’s path represents a failed strategy in the war against the Heart of Winter, rather than Bran’s destiny. Secondly, Brynden’s role in ASOIAF is to be a mentor figure, to help Bran take the next step from mere apprentice to full master of his craft. But in stories, the student is supposed to surpass and transcend the master; for Bran merely to follow Brynden’s plan is to reduce the POV character (GRRM’s very first POV character) to a mere tool in Bloodraven’s hand.

Thirdly and finally, Bran is not going to end his days in the tree because he has work to do. Winterfell has been broken, and Bran is the namesake of its builder, so he is the one who’s going to have to fix it. The great machine for fighting the White Walkers needs to be rebuild, and it’s going to take Bloodraven’s knowledge of the earth magic of the Children of the Forest to do that – that’s why Bran went to the Three-Eyed Crow. And speaking of that machine, I’m going to lay down a marker for the future: I think that the stone (which may also refer to the hot springs beneath), the weirwood tree (which gives us a connection to the greenseers and their magic), and the Kings of Winter (is this why there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, why the bodies of the Starks must be brought back to this place no matter what?) are three crucial components to the functioning of this machine.

Historical Analysis:

One of the things that I like more after having read ADWD – where we see the seemingly final destruction of Winterfell greatly reversed – is that GRRM is actually quite historically accurate about how non-final the burning of a capitol can be.

Partially because premodern cities were really really easy to burn, and partially because important locations remain important even when the structures of a given city have been leveled, a lot of historical capitol cities burned many times over. As you can see from this list, London burned no less than four times, and it yet remains as the capitol city of Great Britain; Constantinople burned five times and yet you can see many of its great structures in present-day Istanbul.

But as long as the people survive, cities cannot die. After the Great Fire of London, the residents returned to the city while the ashes were still warm, and used pegs and rope lines to mark out where their homes had stood until the city’s building trades got to them. The Great Fire of Chicago and the San Francisco Earthquake (and Fire) of 1906 leveled most if not all of those great metropolises, but the cities barely paused in their growth, in part because the aftermath of a great disaster often means there’s nowhere to go but up.

And this was especially true of the sack of cities.  Sacks often involve a great deal of murder and unfortunately of sexual assault as well, but rarely the destruction of the structures and the whole of the people who live in them, because what the sackers are after is movable wealth. As Hillary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell says of the sack of Rome in 1527, “soldiers don’t do that. They’re too busy carrying away everything they can turn into ready money.” We think of the Sack of Rome in 476 as the end of a civilization, but as I’ve discussed before, Odoacer didn’t harm the city as much as he did one element of its political order in order to get his back pay.

What If?

In this chapter especially, there isn’t really a place for hypotheticals. Bran exists as a character to go north of the Wall and always has, as we can see from the Ur-Text. If that makes for disappointment, I apologize. All I can say is, just you wait for A Storm of Swords, because that book is absolutely riddled with moments of extreme contingency.

See you there!

Book vs. Show:

As with a lot of Bran’s Season 2 storyline, this moment doesn’t quite land the way it should. Part of it is the premature revelation about his survival – remember, in the book this chapter is the first Bran chapter after the capture of Winterfell – which means that their emergence from the crypts doesn’t have the same surprise moment. I would also say that part of it is the staging and filming of the sack of Winterfell; even without the presence of Ramsay, the way that the showrunners depicted Theon’s capture and then shot the outside shots here make it rather unclear what precisely happened in Winterfell and why we should care who burnt it to the ground.

Likewise, leaving out the Northern political plotline (and Jojen and Meera) means that Luwin has to tell Bran and Rickon to go to Jon at the Wall, which isn’t quite as good a launching-off point for where Bran’s story is going to go. I will say, however, that Donald Sumpter was an amazing Maester Luwin and made for a quite poignant death.


84 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Bran VII, ACOK

  1. They will bend the knee says:

    Oh… last chapter already… 😥

    But now the question on everybody’s mind is “will you be done with ASOS before ADOW comes out ?”

    Looking forward to reading your article when I get back from work !

    • Thanks!

      Well, ASOS is 81 chapters long, so that’ll take at least two, maybe three years.

      So TWOW will be out, knock on wood, but probably not ADOS.

      • They will bend the knee says:

        Well I prefer to joke about the wait for the book rather than get pointlessly angry about it.

        Did get back from work and read the article. It was a nice read, as always.It’s amazing how steadily you’ve been going all those years. Congratulation on keeping us entertained.

  2. Iñigo says:

    Zero! (fireworks)

    Great job!

  3. Winnief says:

    Wow, we’ve finally reached the last chapter. Way to go Steve!

    Find your thoughts on Bran being the one to rebuild WF very interesting. Prior I was inclined to believe it would be Sansa and/or Rickon who did that, but you make a good case. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    And WORD to everything you said about the wanton destruction of WF. Only Ramsay. NO WAY, Roose told him to do that.

    Am 100% confident that “there must always be a Stark at Winterfell” refers to some ancient magic compact. This has multiple significances. Firstly it makes the Fall of House Stark not simply the tragedy of a single family but a potential catastrophe for the entire Realm-and damns House Lannister, House Frey, and House Bolton even more. Secondly it’s a helluva good argument for why (SPOILER ALERT) Jon might be obligated to help kick some Bolton ass after all and win back WF for his kin.

    Breathless with anticipation for ASOS and your Kingsmoot essay.

    • Sean C. says:

      Secondly it’s a helluva good argument for why (SPOILER ALERT) Jon might be obligated to help kick some Bolton ass after all and win back WF for his kin.

      Jon already decided to do that at the end of ADWD.

    • Andrew says:

      I think it could be Rickon to help rebuild House Stark, I mean the kid has got to do something.

      Agreed, Ramsay acted on his own regarding the destruction of Winterfell. If Roose intended to make it one of his seats he would have wanted it intact.

      As for the “Stark in Winterfell,” my theory is that there was a prophecy that said the Others would never invade again so long as there was a Stark in Winterfell and the men of the Night’s Watch stayed true as Old Nan said.

      • Grant says:

        The Others were already on the move before Eddard Stark had ever left and the Night’s Watch has gone as far as to have its own civil war in the years past. Whatever sparked the Others’ march, I think it’s a lot more massive than one family and one organization.

        • Andrew says:

          I meant invade the realm, and get beyond the Wall. So far they haven’t made it past the Wall.

        • Laural says:

          Prophecies in ASOIAF are rather metaphorical, so it could be interpreted less as cause and effect, and more as “will happen concurrently”.

  4. Yog-Sothoth says:

    Congrats on your excellent analysis of the first two books! Looking forward to ASOS immensely.

  5. Wow, congrats on finishing the second novel! Now like GRRM himself, you immediately leave fans wondering when you’ll get to the next book. 😀

  6. Ian G. says:

    This is the most minor of quibbles – I thought Ramsay attacking Theon happened at night. I don’t have the book handy, but your recap of the chapter quotes Theon observing how the torchlight played off Ramsay’s armor. Not a big deal, and the Sack is manifestly a major undertaking that took many hours, but I did wonder.

    Since we now know from the WOIAF that Ramsay is the third Bolton to sack Winterfell, I’m curious as to why the previous two sacks don’t seem to have had any ill metaphysical effects. Simply a matter of bad timing?

    • I double checked when I wrote this. The attack starts while the sun is still red in the sky.

    • winnief says:

      Maybe the two previous Sacks weren’t as destructive. Or maybe the Starks just successfully rebuilt.

      But again it does make it seem a little puzzling the Boltons were allowed to continue for so long. Personally I think their luck is about to run out and good riddance.

  7. Sean C. says:

    It’s kind of unfortunate that Bran’s storyline post-ACOK is clearly straining to generate material while GRRM gets all the other storylines to the end of their Act 1 positions (and then through the bridging books between Act 1 and Act 2). This is even more pronounced in the show, which did ASOS over two seasons and had to both bring in some of Bran’s ADWD material and then drop him from a whole season. I think this has had an unfortunately deleterious effect on fan perceptions of Bran’s overall importance.

  8. Congratulations on completing Clash of Kings, I will say two things regarding this chapter. The first is about the Sack of Winterfell, I defintley think this level of destruction was Ramsay’s way of living up to the Bolton legacy to destroying Winterfell, no doubt believing himself to be Roose’s trueborn son but also because of the historical lessons he learned from Reek. The second thing about the Hornwood affair is that the majority of Northern Nobles learned different lessons, because Wyman Manderly and the Umbers came to understand that their selfishness may have aided in the destruction of House Stark and their defeat against the Lannisters. Which may be one reason why the majority of northerners seem hell-bent on avenging the Starks and restoring Winterfell and killing all the Boltons and Freys in the Land. Even in the beginnings of a brutal winter that is quickly approaching.

  9. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Congratulations! Now you only have 198 chapters left.
    There are a few “what if?”s, IMO. “What if Rickon and Osha had gone to the Umbers?” “What if they had gone to White Harbor?” “What if they had gone to Barrowton?”…

    There’s one thing that’s always bothered me about ACOK’s Northern ending. How come no one tells the Starks that the Boltons burned Winterfell? I mean, there have to be some survivors of the battle.

    • winnief says:

      That is a good question. Certainly if news had reached Robb in time not only the whole RW but the disastrous march on Duskendale could have been averted.

    • Nittanian says:

      According to So Spake Martin (
      Q: Neither Robb nor the Night’s Watch learned that Dreadfort man had attacked Ser Rodrik and his host at Winterfell, and had burned castle and town. Does this then mean that nobody of Ser Rodrik’s host could flee to tell the truth about the role of Ramsay Snow?

      A: Most of the leaders of Ser Rodrik’s host were slain, but a good many of the common soldiers survived and have doubtless straggled back to their villages and holdfasts, spreading tales as they go. Of course, the situation was confused enough so that the tales may disagree, even with each other…

    • It’s more about communications issues – there are survivors, but do they have access to a maester and ravens? A lot of the nearby holdfasts are out of commission.

  10. Julian says:

    Maybe the Winterfell engine and “starks [living and dead] must be in Winterfell” rule is a light-side version of the bloodmagic we’ve seen in the rest of the series with R’hollor, Valyria, etc. The Starks and their connection to / sacrifice for Winterfell produces magic based on that sacrifice, but it’s benign rather than malignant (though not necessarily less painful) because it’s self-sacrifice. Maybe Jojen volunteered to be Gogurt for Bran?

    • winnief says:

      Possibly. And maybe part of that self-sacrifice was the fact that Stark sons were always being sent to the NW. Maybe that was part of the deal and the tradition carried on after the original cause was forgotten.

      There’s also a theory that Starks (and maybe other First Men families too like the Blackwoods) interbred with the Children of the Forest.

    • Maybe. Although it could have to do with warging capability.

  11. Tywin of the Hill says:

    BTW, What’s your take on the “great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame”?

    • I have always wondered about that – it’s such an odd element to introduce without pay-off, but at the same time I’ve never found the argument that it couldn’t possibly be a dragon all that convincing. At the least, I’ve yet to see a coherent argument for it being anything ELSE.

      • winnief says:

        Clearly the dragons ARE coming to WF at some point.

        • Andrew says:

          Likely if WF is one of the stops on Dany’s map when the Northmen decide to revert to their old plan of an independent kingdom in the North after Stannis dies.

      • Andrew says:

        My theory is Bran pulls a Ben Kenobi and tells Arya to go andown steal a dragon. Her time in the Faceless men has to be put towards SOMETHING- if she were just going to practice commanding troops then she would have stayed with the BwB and got caught up with their insurgency.

        I never understood why everyone thinks Sansa is going to inherit Winterfell. Winterfell is 100% guaranteed to go to either Bran or Rickon, and I’d put Arya or Jon ahead of Sansa due to looks and temperament and, bluntly speaking, the fact that they (and Bran) are more important narratively speaking, as it’s clear that Sansa is one of the “secondary” characters like Jaime that grew on the author to our considerable enjoyment. Sansa, if she rules, will be most likely to take up Harrenhall and/or the Trident.

        There’s also the question that if everyone is going North then what use is politics, or for that matter an assassin? Bran has magic, Rickon is a barbarian, Arya is a warg and a Nymeria in the making, Jon is an accomplished leader and fighter, but Sansa? What could she do for the War against the Others in the North? Thus is one of the reasons I think she’s going to go into the Riverlands, wiping out the Freys and reclaiming the Tully lands for the North would give soldiers and food.

        • Last time I checked, inheritance rules weren’t based on looks or temperament.

          And let’s talk narratively. Why would Sansa ever end up in the Riverlands, when her story hasn’t had anything to do with the Riverlands and she’s never even been to Harrenhal (unlike Arya, who spent two books in the Riverlands),and she is the one who had the big, symbolic, emotional scene of building Winterfell in the snow, which took up paragraphs and paragraphs? What kind of crappy writing would that be?

          And why would Jon inherit Winterfell when 1) his story has been entirely tied to the Night’s Watch, and 2) R+L=J exists?

      • It’s just smoke and fire, as interpreted by the mind of a direwolf. People think way too hard about it.

  12. Ethan says:

    Congratulations Steven, an excellent analytical series. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciate the time and effort you’ve dedicated to it.

  13. Jim B says:

    “Luwin knew the truth, but kept it to himself, not only from Theon (which if you stop to think about is a pretty significant violation of his oath as a maester)”

    How so? Theon claims to have killed the boys himself, doesn’t he? So Maester Luwin knows that Theon knows the bodies are fake, which means that Luwin doesn’t have any information that Theon doesn’t that is in any way relevant to governing Winterfell.

    I doubt that the maester’s oath requires a maester to provide any information that the lord he serves might conceivably want to know, especially not information that might undermine the relationship between maester and lord. For example, I don’t think a maester has to say “My Lord, you have terrible breath, you’re a complete asshole, your daughter is ugly, and I hate every minute I spend in your service.” (Yes, ok, the maester might need to make sure the bad breath isn’t a symptom of disease, and to discretely point out certain potential obstacles in securing a marriage match for the daughter. But you get the point — it’s like how marriage vows don’t obligate you to say that your wife really does look fat in that dress.)

    I think it stands to reason that maesters need only provide such information as might be relevant or useful to the lord’s duties. What purpose would be served by Luwin telling Theon that he knows the truth? The only argument I can see is “if Theon knows that Luwin already knows, then Theon can seek Luwin’s advice on how to track down the real Stark boys.” But it’s unclear that Luwin can really offer any useful advice on that subject — he doesn’t even know how the boys escaped, let alone how to find them — or that Theon is interested or has the resources to try to find them. And the argument for keeping his mouth shut is at least as good: if Theon knows that Luwin knows, there’s a good chance Luwin gets his throat slit to silence him, which leaves Theon (and Winterfell) without a maester. That argument has a slight self-serving quality to it, but I think it’s still undoubtedly true that Theon is better off having Luwin there as a voice of reason.

    • Sean C. says:

      I doubt the maester’s oath requires them to endanger themselves like that anyway. Luwin doesn’t appear to have acted against Theon in any way (in the books; in the show, he actively concealed Bran and co. in the crypts).

      • winnief says:

        Word to both.

        Also since Bran is the *rightful* lord of WF and Theon the interloper, Luwin arguably should serve the former over the latter.

        • Ian G. says:

          Bran yields Winterfell to Theon. If Luwin’s loyalty is to the castle, it’s pretty clear that Theon has, ever so temporarily, taken it.

          Now, this would in practice be totally unworkable – when, for example, are maesters supposed to stop sending ravens for aid and begin advising the conquerers? – but in this case I don’t think there’s any argument as to who Luwin should serve.

  14. Nittanian says:

    Maybe Walton the Moon King reigned only for a month (a moon’s turn)?

  15. rewenzo says:

    I hate to say this, but I bet Edderion the Bridegroom earned his appellation by either (1) forcibly marrying somebody; (2) marrying several times; or (3) tragically dying at his wedding.

    If he was just some guy who married in a way that expanded the realm of the Starks he wouldn’t really be distinguishable from a lot of the Starks throughout the millennia. Bridegroom implies he was famous for getting married or for being about to get married.

    • Well, compare to Garlan II Gardener, called the Bridegroom for bringing Oldtown into the Reach through a marriage.

      • ajay says:

        Exactly. A _really significant_ expansion achieved through marriage would probably do the trick. Especially if, you know, he hadn’t actually achieved much else significant. (“You have scored 7%. History will forever remember you as EDDERION the GUY WHO GOT MARRIED”.)

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          Crusader Kings 2 reference!

          But most of the crucial areas of the North are already accounted for in WOIAF. Who could Edderion have brought into the realm?

          • Well we don’t know how far back this was. In TWOIAF there’s a list of Houses that submitted to the Starks, Barrow Kings, Umbers… so on. Or maybe there’s some story about a wedding involving Edderion, like maybe he took someone else’ betrothed at the wedding.

          • etter says:

            Civ3 reference.

  16. vandalcabbage says:

    Wonderful! Both your GoT and ACoK reviews are great, and now I have an excuse to go through all of them at once. (But I am looking forward to ASoS as well, it’s my favourite book of the series).

  17. Andrew says:

    A good conclusion to A Clash of Kings, Steven

    1. No one needs me to tell them that the “other boon” Luwin asked of Osha was a coup de grace.

    2. If the thought of what Ramsay might do to Winterfell occurred to Roose, he would likely have told Ramsay to leave it intact if he intended it to be his seat.

    3. Bran= Frodo

    Like Frodo, Bran leaves with three companions (excluding Summer) on a quest. He is accompanied by a ranger, and makes his way to a figure with a single all-seeing eye shrouded in darkness, Bloodraven.

    • thatrabidpotato says:


      So Bran is utterly useless at best and actively harmful to the cause of good at worst? And vacuums up the credit from more deserving allies?

      • Grant says:

        The guy did endure the burden of a magical item known both for its appeal and corrupting influence so much that one of the most powerful wizards in the world flat out refused it when offered. Make Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn etc. carry it and the world probably gets two dark lords to deal with.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          The only reason we don’t get two dark lords in the actual storyline is because Frodo has no power. It consumes him quickly enough, the only reason the ring even makes into Mordor is because of Sam, who Frodo treats like shit. Frodo then steals all of Sam’s credit both in universe and out.

          Seriously, if Frodo had died from his wounds on Weathertop, the storyline would not have been negatively affected in any way.

          • Grant says:

            Except then they would have to find someone who actually could carry it. No guarantees anyone else really could for that long. According to the timeline, Frodo was carrying that thing for two years. I think he deserves a lot of credit for putting up with it.

            Also he got into Mordor because he got Gollum to help them. Sam’s greatest contributions came at the end of The Two Towers and a good deal of The Return of the King when he drove off Shelob and rescued Frodo from orcs. Lastly, Frodo didn’t steal anything. The text really does not back that view.

  18. thatrabidpotato says:

    I shall add my voice to the chorus here thanking you for all your hard work, Stephen. I am almost positive that you have written more with your analyses of these books than Martin himself wrote in each. And yet you’ve written two in less than the time it takes Martin to write one.

    Now that that’s said, GIVE ME STORM NAOW!!!!1!!! *cracks whip*

  19. Steven Xue says:

    Brovo, you have done a tremendous job with your analysis of the series so far. Can’t wait to read your analysis of the next book.

  20. Agema says:

    Hi Steve.

    Never commented before, but this seems like enough of a milestone. So thanks, you’ve been a joy to read. I stumbled across this blog about a year ago and consistently enjoyed your thought-provoking analyisis.Your ability to repeatedly find hidden depths, interesting historical parallels, and well buried foreshadowing (amongst other things) is fantastic, and it’s only increased my appreciation for Mr Martin’s work. I look forward to reading your work for many years to come!

  21. poorquentyn says:

    Great work, especially on that last line of Luwin’s!

    On Bran’s destiny, I’d just say that I don’t think he needs to physically return to Winterfell to preside over the Rebuilding–as you say with Jon’s third eye, he’s perfectly capable of projecting power and information across time and space, and we see with Stannis and Theon in TWOW that Bran’s already getting comfortable guiding the preparations in Winterfell remotely.

    I think there’s a grand metaphor at work in Bran’s storyline, the result of GRRM filtering the Hero’s Journey through Winterfell’s metaphysics: Bran isn’t Winterfell’s literal lord (Sansa’s the one getting the political education), he’s its “knight of the mind.” Hence his comparison of Winterfell to a tree in AGOT. His relationship to the castle always seemed less geared around ruling it than wanting to BE it on some level, and I think that’s basically what’s metaphysically happening in ADWD.

    • I have this picture in my head of every bird in 400 miles perched throughout Winterfell telling those inside in Bran’s perfect English that there better not be any living Freys or Boltons alive inside by the time Rickon gets there just before Stannis etc. start their attack.

      Probably ridiculous but I don’t think Bran will physically have to be anywhere to have influence where he wants

      • Winnief says:

        ITA that Bran doesn’t have to be *physically* present to play a BIG role in events to come. I think first and foremost, Bran is gonna be instrumental in re-uniting the wolf pack so to speak. We already know he’s been sending dreams to Arya-my guess is he’s gonna tell her it’s time to come home.

        And of course it might be *Bran* who (thanks to his visions) first learns the truth about Jon’s parentage and maybe directs everyone to where the proof can be found within the WF crypts. Not to mention Bran and Bloodraven could prove a crucial source of information on the Night’s King and White Walkers and by the Old Gods and the New we’re gonna need all the intel there we can get.

  22. Another brilliant analysis. Though there are What-Ifs, such as what if Rickon goes to the Dustins or Manderlys? And no mention of Wex Pyke. But still a good review and I look forward to you starting ASOS. I love your series of analysis.

  23. Chinoiserie says:

    I’ll read this later but I wanted to say Congrats and thanks for finishing Clash.

  24. scarlett45 says:

    Well done Steven! Thank you so much for all of the hard work you put into these posts.

  25. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    Great work on the series, and congratulations!

    I guess one “What If” is “What if Ramsey didn’t sack Winterfell as thoroughly?” Presumably, one of the neighboring lords with some resources would have moved in, if it was at all possible. (I guess White Harbor, the Umbers and the Glovers are eventually neutralized by the hostage situation, but surely *somebody* could do it without overly exposing their homes to Ironborn depredations.)

  26. John S. says:

    When can we expect to have your ACOK analysis in ebook form available? I came late to the party and read all of your analysis on AGOT that way. Decided to hold off on reading any of your ACOK thoughts until it was all together in ebook as well. Keep up the great work

  27. John says:

    Odoacer never sacked Rome. He overthrew the last western emperor, but that happened in Ravenna, not Rome. The two fifth century sacks of Rome were by Alaric and the Visigoths in 410 and by Gaiseric and the Vandals in 455. I don’t think anything of any note happened to Rome in 476.

  28. beto2702 says:

    What if Wex was discovered? What if Bran had gone to White Harbor? (Unlikely, but still a possibility) What if Rickon & Osha stay with Bran & co? What if Rickon goes to White Harbor? What if Maester Luwin is already dead by the time they come out? For Rhollor’s sake not even what if Ramsay found them!!!?

    There were definitely what ifs here.

  29. […] the past I’ve written about Alaric and Odoacer as examples of how the fall of Rome was perhaps not as dramatic as Renaissance historians decrying […]

  30. […] to his “prince of Winterfell,” he has to face up to his failures as a leader and the destruction of his home, and the guilt and despair that entails. In the myth of the Fisher King, “as fares the king, […]

  31. […] sleeping with Jeyne and Catelyn freeing Jaime, both acts of desperation prompted by the news of the “deaths” of Bran and Rickon and the fall of Winterfell, both actions that once done could not be easily undone – although […]

  32. […] is also important and GRRM needs to flesh out where his northern plotline is going to go now that Winterfell is gone. And while some have argued that the Northern hill clans appeared in ADWD as something of a deus ex […]

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