Ned, Robert and several others have gone for a final hunt prior to the King’s departure tomorrow. Bran tries to say his goodbyes but finding it too painful, spends his time with his wolf instead. Bran decides to climb a tree to take his mind off things. As he begins to climb, however, his wolf begins to howl. Bran ignores this and carries on, recollecting his climbing adventures and his mother’s disproval of his hobby. He continues climbing from the tree to an old abandoned tower, where he hears two people, a man and a woman, talk about the office of the Hand of the King. They discuss the threat that Ned would pose to them and wonder why he has taken an interest in the affairs of the South after remaining in the North for so long. They continue to discuss politics and how insecure Joff would be on the throne if Robert were to die and Ned were to remain as Hand of the King. Bran realizes that they are plotting against his father and tries to edge closer to try to identify them. He looks through the window and sees them having sex and recognizes Cersei Lannister. She sees him watching and screams causing him to panic and lose his grip. He is saved by Jaime Lannister who catches and pulls him up. Cersei says that Bran heard everything, prompting Jaime to shove him out of the window. The last thing Bran hears as he falls is the howl of his wolf.
This is the point in the series where Martin (who, for convenience’s sake, I will momentarily assume to look vaguely like Lawrence Fishburne in a long black overcoat and a black shades) , asks the reader to choose between the blue and red pills. Take the blue and leave the story and return to a world where there is no incest and minors are not casually tossed out of windows or take the red and see how deep the rabbit-hole really goes. As it turns out, it’s a deep enough rabbit-hole that one suspects that it might not be the work of just a single, industrious rabbit.
This is also the first time Martin ends a chapter with one of his infuriating cliff-hangers. While at least this one is relatively quickly resolved, I can’t say I care too much for such liberal use of such a cheap plot device. Off the top of my head, there’s Bran, Arya (in ASOS), Tyrion (twice! ACoK and ADwD), Catelyn (kind of) and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. The worst part is that it’s somehow still effective. We come to care about the characters so much that we fall for these tricks every damn time. I resent being emotionally manipulated so blatantly, especially when most of the time, the cliff-hanger ends in a rather anti-climatic way. In all honesty, these cliff-hangers, especially when used in moderation, are a great (if somewhat cheap) method of generating tension, but after 5 books of them, I have to question where necessary tension generation ends and being annoying begins. There are many other ways of creating tension apart from implying the death of a beloved character and I feel that Martin’s reliance on this technique is a weakness in his writing.
In terms of this chapter’s structure, Martin guides the readers along wonderfully here – we get a close-up of Bran’s life; his love of climbing, his sadness and excitement about leaving for King’s Landing, his dream of being a knight, etc. We feel comforted by Bran and his innocence – just like with Arya before him, seeing the children’s innocence puts us in a familiar place. His experiences as a boy are easy to relate to and thus the readers can connect with him with minimal effort. Obviously, Martin does this not only to maximize the shock value of Bran getting pushed out of a window, but also because it serves as a simply way to establish Bran’s personality before his life-changing accident and allow the reader to see just how much the accident changes him. Of course, the term accident here is wildly inaccurate, but you get what I mean, I’m sure. In any case, Martin probably realized that Bran’s back-story is unlikely to be terribly interesting and so stuffed it into a chapter in which it would serve some narrative purpose without stealing the spotlight, however unlikely that might be have been. Personally, I have always found Bran’s story to be the dullest of all our primary protagonists’; while his story is the closest to a conventional fantasy story, it just doesn’t hold up in comparison to the politicking in King’s Landing or even Jon’s story up North and often comes across as an addendum rather than a crucial piece of the main story line.
On a trivial note, I didn’t realize before this reading that Summer was howling even before Bran even climbed the tree, but given how Grey Wind was uncomfortable with Robb even entering the Frey household, I’m not surprised at all. I guess we can wind up the discussion for this chapter with a look at Jaime Lannister, because this is the point where he becomes a villain, a role he undoubtedly holds until the end of ACoK at the very least. Personally, I’ve never really bought into the whole Jaime is a good guy faced with a hard choice bullshit. You don’t chuck kids off windows regardless of what kind of hard choices you have – or at least, if you do chuck them, you feel some kind of guilt after it. Jaime here is just so flippant that I feel this huge disconnect between the Jaime here and the Jaime we come to appreciate in ASoS and AFFC. Of course, it helps that he loses his hand since we can convince ourselves that some cosmic justice has been served, but on the whole I still struggle with his actions here and even more so with his lack of remorse about it later on.
I wanted to have more of a reaction to Cersei and Jaime’s political bitching and whining but after knowing everything that happens, I find nothing in that part of the chapter to be comment-worthy. Although, I did have an idle thought of how different the series would be if someone other than Ned took the position. Littlefinger would never take it; it would clash with his preference of being a puppet-master. Renly or Stannis might have accepted but they would have been toast – perhaps not as fast as Ned, but they are no match for Cersei. Renly would have been too inexperienced and Stannis too unyielding to his moral code, in a similar, yet totally different way from Ned.