Bran takes his first ride out of Winterfell on his new horse, Dancer. With him are Robb, Theon, Summer, Grey Wind, Joseth, Maester Luwin, and four guards, including Quent and Wayn. On the way out of town, Theon calls out to Bessa and Kyra, two women he has lain with on more than one occasion. As they ride on into the wolfswood, Robb tells Bran about the death of Jory and Eddard’s injury. Theon thinks Robb should call the banners, but Robb is undecided as of yet. He has, however, fortified Moat Cailin after receiving a letter from Catelyn. Bran loses his enjoyment of the ride and wants to go back, but they need to find the direwolves first.
Robb and Bran slowly outdistance their guard. They hear the direwolves in the distance, and Robb goes off to bring them in. Soon after, Bran is set upon by four men, including Stiv and Wallen who deserted from the Night’s Watch, and two women, Hali and Osha. Bran identifies himself and threatens them. Hali wants to kill him, but Osha says he would be worth more to Mance alive. Stiv says he is not going back to face the white walkers.1 As Stiv prepares to cut Bran off Dancer, Robb returns with Summer and Grey Wind. They charge, and soon everyone is dead except Osha and Stiv, who takes Bran hostage. Suddenly, Stiv is felled by an arrow from Theon as the guard arrives. Robb is furious at Theon for such a reckless act, and is even more enraged to learn that the guard did not get there sooner because Theon went off hunting turkey. They take Osha back to Winterfell for questioning.
And so Bran unwittingly acquires the first member of his faithful entourage. I guess Osha doesn’t really count since she spends most of the books with Rickon but I like the trope of converting enemies into friends and there’s a parallel here (unintentional, I’m sure) of Robb being able to turn enemies into friends just like his namesake. This chapter evokes a time in ASOIAF where each individual’s death was felt keenly and not greeted with apathy. I mean Jory, Wyl and Heward all seem like nice decent dudes, but in the end their deaths aren’t really that important – Jory’s death is really not all that different from any other death in ASOIAF yet the small things like Bran remembering Jory seems completely lacking in later books.
I mentioned in the last Arya chapter that there is a feeling amongst the children’s POVs that this is a very traditional kind of fantasy story (and ASOIAF is certainly traditional is several ways despite the fandom’s claims of Martin’s love of subversion). The same is true of this Bran chapter – there is a very distinctive childlike feel to this chapter as Bran rides again and is accompanied by his protective elder brother and they speak about their family. Things certainly do take a darker turn in the chapter as they discuss the possibility of war and Bran getting assaulted, but on the whole, at this point in the story I remember finding all of this kind of familiar. At the time, I did not know how everything would end and I remember thinking that at some point it would all work out and that Bran’s legs would return to him and that Robb would get justice for his father. I was, in other words, the sweetest of the summer children.
Also, we have military advice from the one and only Theon ‘Reek’ Greyjoy which is a little like getting relationship advice from Jorah Mormont or Gregor Clegane, depending on how charitable you want to be. His instinctive resort to call the banners might seem typical of any ironborn but honestly, it also reeks (heh) of the stupidity of youth. He should know better but he’s caught up in delusions of grandeur and perhaps some part of him thinks that serving the Starks loyally will make him one (not in a legal, name-change kind of way, but in the sense that they will accept him). Bran and Robb thankfully have their heads screwed on the right way and I like that Bran has the sense and maturity to see that Maester Luwin would probably be the one to go to regarding advice in these situations. I actually have a lot of love for Luwin in his chapter – his insistence on riding with Bran is touching and though he clearly not a Stark, I see him very much as a part of the brick and mortar of Winterfell and another honorary Stark, kind of like Theon (yes, I hated Theon for a while, but as of ADWD, I’ve reverted to thinking of him as an almost-Stark), Old Nan and Ser Rodrik. The sad thing is that as the series progresses, my opinions of Maesters just gets lower and lowers (with the exception of Cressen) and that’s mainly because Pycelle, who was once head of their order, is steaming sack of shit.
So, Robb and Bran are attacked by some wildlings and Night’s Watch deserters, all running from the Others. There isn’t a great deal to wonder at in the fight scene – except that as far as I know, this is the first time either Robb, Grey Wolf or Summer have ever killed a person. Robb doesn’t really seem too affected by it, though I guess since we’re never in his POV we can’t say for sure. While I do understand his irritation at Theon for taking the shot, I think Theon has a right to be annoyed at Robb for his irritation, especially since Robb clearly has no plan with regards to diffusing the hostage standoff. I feel at this point in time, Martin wanted the threat of the Others to be felt with a more urgency since there was so much other stuff going on in the South. Also, I believe that at this point in time, Martin still intended the books to be a trilogy and that would mean that the events at the Wall would take place relatively soon (though he did envision a time skip). This would also explain why Martin ends the chapter with a seemingly dramatic note with Osha’s questioning but that questioning leads to such dull answers that I feel cheated out of my dramatic tension.