Bran lies abed listening to Summer and Shaggydog howl. He has dreamt often of wolves recently and feels he can almost understand what the two direwolves are saying. They howl all the time now. Osha says they are howling because they know what is coming. The comet has caused quite a bit of consternation. Osha says it stands for blood and fire to come, Septon Chayle thinks it is a sign of summer’s end, soon confirmed by the arrival of a white raven, and Old Nan, who cannot see very well but claims she can smell the comet, says it means dragons are coming. The direwolves have been locked in the godswood since Shaggydog bit Little Walder. Bran decides to howl with them, bringing a guard, Hayhead, in to see what is going on. Bran keeps howling, and Hayhead brings Maester Luwin, who tells him to sleep. Bran describes the dreams he has. Sometimes, he dreams of a great weirwood. Other times he dreams he is a wolf. He is frustrated because he is not allowed to send Big Walder and Little Walder away and because he tried to ride out of the castle on Dancer but Alebelly would not let him out the gate since it is too dangerous. He keeps howling, and Maester Luwin leaves.
Bran thinks about the Walders. Big Walder is actually smaller than Little Walder, but is the older of the two by fifty-two days, which is how he got the name. They explain that there are many other Walders as well, including Black Walder, fourth in the Frey succession, Red Walder, and Walder Rivers. There are also several girls named Walda and a Waltyr Frey as well. He does not like the Walders because they insist on playing a game called lord of the crossing that he cannot play because he is lame. The game has attracted many of the children of the castle, such as the cook’s boy Turnip, Joseth’s girls Bandy and Shyra, the kennel girl Palla, Cayn’s son Calon, and Fat Tom’s son TomToo. One day, Rickon came to play too, but after Little Walder whacked him with a stick as part of the game, Shaggydog attacked him. Ironically, Rickon became good friends with them after that. Maester Luwin returns with Osha and a sleeping potion. Right before Bran falls asleep, Osha tells him that he should not fight the wolf dreams, as the gods may be trying to talk to him. When he falls asleep, he dreams that he is Summer in the godswood and thinks that he must escape into the wider world or die.
I’ve given a good deal of thought to why exactly I like Bran’s storyline the least out of all the Stark children’s arcs. A big part of the reason is because well, apart from these flashes of activity, action and plot reveal, nothing really happens but beyond that I think it’s because even when things do happen they aren’t necessarily happy things – the sack of Winterfell, its occupation and its subsequent razing are all examples of ‘things happening’ that also happen to fall very firmly into the ‘major bummers’ category. This chapter is essentially just a continuation of Bran’s last AGoT chapter where we begin with another slice of dull, Winterfell life and while the chapter does pick up pace, I remember being a little less than impressed with the revelation of Bran’s warging (although I didn’t know it was at the time). A lot of the major, non-Ironborn relatedly parts of Bran’s story is set forward in this chapter (the Freys, the warging and foreshadowing of the weirwood tree) but I think there’s little enough of any real, long-term consequence worth noting in this chapter.
The way she said it made him shiver, and when he asked what the comet meant, she answered, “Blood and fire, boy, and nothing sweet.”
This is a fairly common trope in fiction where a race (or group) of relatively technologically backward people sort of remember ‘ancient truths’ that the more modern groups have forgotten and here it overlaps quite a bit with the notion that science (as represent by Luwin and the Maesters in general) is somehow not as good at explaining unusual phenomenon as ancient mysticism. Of course, given the prevalence of supernatural occurrences in ASOIAF, it makes sense that Maesters would not have everything figured out but it irks me a little that Osha is able to tell directly that the comet heralds dragons -unless, of course, she is using the words ‘Blood and fire’ in a more literal sense, meaning that the comet is a sign of violence to come. It is a little strange for a Wildling to be that familiar with the words of House Targaryen so I’m not sure whether to chalk this up to a knowing reference on Osha’s part to the birth of dragons or whether she just happened to use those exact Targaryen words. What I like about this discussion about the comet is that their interpretations all begin to mesh together – Osha’s Blood and Fire is linked directly to Nan’s claim of dragons and ominously connected to the arrival of Winter. It’s like the comet is the sign that the battle between Ice and Fire has begun.
“They do,” Bran said with sudden certainty. “They dream tree dreams. I dream of a tree sometimes. A weirwood, like the one in the godswood.”
This is an interesting bit of foreshadowing and one that I’m quite surprised to see here. Given the conversation that followed it seemed to imply that Bran was the tree that was dreaming. In any case, I can very fully understand Luwin’s concern – Bran will have a difficult enough life as a cripple without him becoming a shut-in as well though it’s quite easy to see that the lack of a real parental figure is taking its toll on Bran’s morale as well, especially in how Bran is always wondering if someone else has died on him.
There isn’t much to note about this whole Lord of the Crossing business except how exceptionally Frey-like it is to sit on a crossing and demand oaths for allowing others to cross. However there is this:
. . . until Little Walder had smacked Rickon with the stick, square across his belly. Before Bran could blink, the black wolf was flying over the plank, there was blood in the water, the Walders were shrieking red murder, Rickon sat in the mud laughing, and Hodor came lumbering in shouting “Hodor! Hodor! Hodor!”
It’s a long quote because I wanted to keep the context but the image of Rickon laughing in the mud while his wolf tears the Frey a new one (literally) and the others are screaming is more than a little haunting. I assume Rickon was laughing because it was all a game to him, but damn do I not blame Luwin for shutting the whole thing down.
The chapter ends with Bran’s first (I think?) wolf dream. At the very least, I think it’s his first ‘on-screen’ wolf dream. Generally speaking, I’ll probably gloss over the wolf dreams unless something major happens in them because I just find them rather dull and uneventful. The impact of this particular wolf dream however is that it was the very first and as such it was supposed to be this big wham moment where we realize there’s some mystical stuff happening even in Westeros itself. I think the main reason it never made too much of an impact on me was because Winterfell felt too far removed from the ‘action’ – the politics in the South, the war in the Riverlands, the dragons in Essos, and compared to all that, wolf dreams were a little ‘meh’.