Hodor helps Bran dress for a meeting with Lord Wyman Manderly, who has come to Winterfell for the harvest feast. They pass the practice yard on the way to the Great Hall and see Big Walder and Little Walder joust with each other. When the two Freys see Bran, they mock Hodor until Maester Luwin comes to put an end to it. Bran arrives at the hall, where Ser Rodrik and Lord Wyman have already begun eating. Lord Wyman suggests establishing a mint at White Harbor and building a fleet. Ser Rodrik says he will pass those suggestions on to Robb. The talk goes through midday, and Maester Luwin has Poxy Tym bring lunch. Lord Wyman brings up Lord Halys Hornwood’s widow, Donella. She was born a Manderly, and Lord Wyman suggests that she become one again by marrying him or his son Wendel. He also mentions that Lord Tywin has sent him a letter offering to return Wyman’s captive son Wylis if Wyman will sit out the war. Lord Wyman does not plan to accept the offer.
Lady Donella arrives at Winterfell that night and meets with Bran, Maester Luwin, and Ser Rodrik the next day. She states that the Bastard of Bolton is massing men at the Dreadfort and may be coveting her lands. She says he is a horrid man and that he and his servant Reek engage in shocking acts of debauchery. After she leaves, the three men discuss what to do. There is no heir. The Tallharts, Flints, and Karstarks all have ties to House Hornwood through the female line and the Glovers are fostering Lord Halys’s bastard at Deepwood Motte. With the meeting over, Bran has Hodor carry him to the godswood. Summer greets him when he arrives, but Shaggydog slinks away. Osha is there too, swimming in one of the pools. She asks Bran if he has had more wolf dreams. He denies it, but she knows he is lying.
That night, Bran dreams of the three-eyed crow and is awakened by the arrival of Mors and Hother Umber. Mors wants leave to marry Lady Donella, and Hother wants ships to defend against wildling raiders crossing over the Bay of Seals. Ser Rodrik orders the Umbers to work with Lord Wyman to build the needed ships. The Glovers and Tallharts arrive next. Lady Sybelle is holding Deepwood Motte for her brother-in-law Galbart and her husband Robett, but she sends her steward to Winterfell. The Tallharts are represented by Ser Helman’s brother Leobald, who reports that Helman’s son Benfred has raised a company of teenage lancers who call themselves the Wild Hares and gallop around singing songs of chivalry. Ser Rodrik is not pleased and tells Leobald to make sure Benfred stays at Torrhen’s Square. Leobald also speaks of Lady Donella and suggests sending his younger son, Beren, to foster with her. His wife is sister to Lord Halys, and he suggests that Beren might take the Hornwood name if he were named heir. Other houses send their regrets. The Boltons decline to come, and the Mormonts and Karstarks all went south and have no representative to send, while Lord Ondrew Locke is too frail to make the journey and Lady Lyessa Flint is pregnant and cannot travel. Howland Reed has not journeyed from his home in many years. The last to arrive is Lord Medger Cerwyn’s son Cley, who tells Bran of Stannis’s proclamation. Hearing about Cersei and Jaime’s incest causes Bran to remember being pushed off the tower as he dreams that night.
The plot line in Winterfell edges forward ponderously. I remember it taking a fair bit of time to get started but this feels like another chapter where nothing major happens. The Northern Houses are a little more familiar to me now than they were the first time I read the series but their affairs still feel superfluous and unnecessary even despite me knowing how relevant they become in the near future. In my mind, the Winterfell plotline in ACOK doesn’t really take off until Theon invades so chapters like these feel they serve no purpose apart from setting the scene (and establishing a sense of normalcy) in Winterfell. On a related side note though, I’m always pretty impressed when authors are able to lay the groundwork for future plots so early on. There are a few examples of this in this chapter alone – Manderly’s loyalty, the introduction of the Umbers and the business with Lady Hornwood and Ramsay Snow (shudders abound). I don’t know if I’m giving Martin too much credit for developing plot lines in advance, but I don’t think I am. He’s either developed a world that’s fleshed out enough to organically create situations that he can use in future books for side plots (like the two Umbers) or he’s intentionally creating these characters and situations for future use. I think it’s a mix of the two, but heavily favouring the latter.
One thing I noticed (and I’m really surprised I didn’t notice this earlier) is that the North has a very different political structure from the South. We already know that these two ‘kingdoms’ are pretty disparate in their cultural ideologies and in the way they see the world but I had expected the North to continue with a more ‘southern’ style of government even after the rebellion. What I’m referring to, of course, is the lack of a ministry of any kind; in Southron kingdoms there are various political offices like the Hand of the King, the Master of Coin, the Master of Whispers, etc. In the North, everything still seems to go through Winterfell where Luwin and Ser Rodrik handle most of the basic disputes and administration and pass the more important decisions on to Robb with their advice and recommendations. I would think that the southern style, being more structured would be better but it does lead to the King being a little left out of the loop (or rather, it makes it easy for the king to be cut out of the process). Moreover, having everything so centralized is going to be an obvious disadvantage when Theon takes the city but even before that I feel like it would create a lot of unnecessary paperwork and administrative bullshit – just in this very chapter, we see Wyman Manderly ask Winterfell to confirm his new custom officers but surely that’s something he should be handling himself? My point here isn’t so much about which system is different but more that the difference exists at all given that the King’s Landing based system is the only political system that the North has known for the last 300 years. I wonder if this is more a case of Martin just sort of forgetting to really detail the offices in the North and it wouldn explain why Manderly is petitioning for a position that would be very similar to that of a Master of Coin without outright calling it that.
Winter is coming, and you are almost a man grown, Bran.
The chapter is split fairly evenly between a glimpse of how much Bran hates his life and the Northern politics, which Bran also hates. Bran’s unhappiness is very understandable – he is handicapped, stuck in a stuffy role as a political figurehead and bullied by two tools in his own home. There is a line though, between a character legitimately complaining about something and the same character whining. I don’t really think Bran is outright whining at this point but I don’t really enjoy reading about his misery and woe. Luckily, I can exercise my ire on two more convenient (and more deserving) targets – the two Frey brats. We’ll get to them in a minute, but before that I should take about the Bran quote from above before I get sidetracked entirely. There’s this feeling in this chapter and even in King’s Landing with Tyrion when he has to deal with Joffrey – it’s like the ‘adults’ in Winterfell can’t quite decide what to do with Bran. Is he a man grown or just a child of eight? The same characters (Luwin and Rodrik) try to have it both ways and it’s a relatable frustration to anyone who’s been on the cusp of adulthood. The age of eight is certainly too young to be making war decisions yet at the same time, a Prince of Winterfell can’t be seen acting like a child. This conflict between Bran’s social position and his political position makes the situation feel very realistic to me – Bran is the Lord of Winterfell and a Prince but at the same time, he is also a minor which puts most of the adults in the awkward position of having to respect him and his position without actually obeying him or following his every command. This is an obvious flaw in the system and one of several reasons why people like Roose Bolton consider child lords the bane of a house.
They must be hungry for honor, Bran thought as he watched them take up their lances. A Stark needs only the direwolf.
This line caught my eye for a couple of reasons. One, it really does highlight the difference in the social positions between Bran and the Freys. The Freys have to try hard to distinguish themselves not only from each other (because no one really knows how many Freys there are) but also from the rest of the houses within this social tier. The Stark direwolf on the other hand is equalled only by six other sigils and no smaller House would dare use it without the Starks’ blessings. The other reason I paused at this line was because of strange it felt that Bran should be bullied by those so far below him despite being in a position and place where he should be at the height of his power. That might be a little dramatically worded but the truth of the matter is that Winterfell, especially under the current circumstances, is the place most likely to recognize Bran’s authority and if he’s getting bullied there…well, he might need to start exercising some of that power.
That aside, the two Bran chapters so far have made it abundantly clear the Frey boys are assholes. They aren’t even evil really, they’re just the kind of stupid twats that we all encounter when we’re children (if you don’t remember meeting anyone like that, then chances are that you were the twat). Still, what they, and to a lesser degree some of the other outsiders and visitors to the castle, highlight to us is that it is fucking hard being a crippled person in Westeros. Even in a position as privileged as Bran’s, life isn’t exactly easy and his prospects don’t look too bright. Sure, it could be worse – if he were a farmer’s son, he would probably have been taken out into the wild and abandoned or something horrible like that because he would have just become an extra, non-working mouth to feed.
I seem to remember one of the Freys being marginally less of an asshole than the other. I believe it’s Big Walder that’s the somewhat more decent human being based on the fact that he apologizes and all. I’ll admit to being a little biased – I like both the Brackens and the Blackwoods and Big Walder’s Blackwood ancestry makes me want to like him a little more than Little Walder and his irrelevant ancestry. Seriously, Crakehall and Darry? Who gives a shit?
Anyway, that caps out most of the my major points on the chapter. There are a couple of lines that I thought warranted some (unnecessary) commenting though:
“Or if the lady fancies a younger lad, well, my son Wendel is unwed as well.”
Isn’t it extremely creepy for a man and his son to consider marrying the same woman? I mean, I know age isn’t a big deal in Westeros (see Walder Frey Senior-est) but Lady Hornwood is well-past child-bearing age and sure that might be fine for Manderly since he has his heirs but what about Wendel? I just don’t get how the succession in Westeros works sometimes and given the amount of debate over the Hornwood lands, I think the rules aren’t exactly set in stone especially with how there was even talk about some kid changing his surname and stuff. Factor in Ramsay doing Bolton things by creeping in Hornwood land and I really wonder how Ned would have dealt with all of it. At some point down the line, we will need to have a discussion about Starks and the Boltons, though obviously there are much better points in the story to have that talk.
“King Robb has no more loyal servant than Wyman Manderly.”
I remember thinking that this was nothing more than the usual rhetoric the first time but after ADWD my respect for Wyman Manderly shot through the roof. It would have been easy for him, wiser even, to just roll over and bow to Cersei but the fact that he kept his ‘fuck you and everything you stand for’ principles long after Robb died is pretty damn legit. Beyond his loyalty, he’s also a smart man, as mentioned in this chapter itself, and not above a little trickery and manipulation of his own. Add in the fact that he just doesn’t give a shit about what anyone says about him or his and he and the Greatjon might just be my favourite Nortern Lords.
“As if he were trueborn and had a right to that name.”
No, no, you mustn’t call him that, he is Ramsay Bolton, not Snow, never Snow…It’s impressive how the spectre of Ramsay Snow lurks over the characters from this early on. His ‘sport’ is hinted at here but I don’t think any of us were expecting the extent of his depravity this early on.
“Ser Rodrik, I do believe my lady fancies you.”
It’s odd that this line caught me out a little as well. In ASOIAF, there’s plenty of tragedy but there’s something Rodrik’s death and how that entire house was so suddenly extinguished that gets to me every time. The entire Cassel family served loyally but died for their troubles and I guess the sappy part of my wanted this last bit of happiness for Ser Rodrik and the fact that it would have solved in this troublesome business in the North was just gravy but of course, that would have a nice thing and Martin knows that we can’t have that.
Hodor knew Bran’s favorite place, so he took him to the edge of the pool beneath the great spread of the heart tree, where Lord Eddard used to kneel to pray.
Is it purely coincidental that Bran’s favourite place is the same place that Ned used to pray? Normally, I wouldn’t even bother asking but Bran’s vision of Ned in ADWD was when Ned was praying on that very same spot and surely it’s no coincidence that it was also Bran’s favourite spot, right? I don’t know if there’s a point to this beyond just a connection between the two events and it’s in places like this that the lack of information really gets to me (it’s been four full years since ADWD, dammit!)
And to Bran’s astonishment, the truculent Umbers agreed to do as he commanded, though not without grumbling.
I don’t really know what this is about. Neither of the senior Umbers seem like the kind to back down from an argument. The text makes it seem like they backed down when Luwin threatened to tell Robb but I can’t help but wonder if they were more reluctant for the Greatjon to know that they were stirring trouble. As far as I know, the Umber uncles have never met Robb directly and have no real reason to ‘fear’ him or his wrath such as it might be.
That night Bran prayed to his father’s gods for dreamless sleep. If the gods heard, they mocked his hopes, for the nightmare they sent was worse than any wolf dream.
I don’t think we ever find out whether it was Bloodraven who was consciously sending all the dreams Bran’s way or whether Bloodraven just opened the floodgates with his initial couple of prods and the rest was just Bran’s talent doing its thing. In any event, it’s pretty amusing to think of a really bored Bloodraven chilling in his tree and being a dick to Bran by sending nightmares all the time. On a final, more serious note though, I was and continue to be a little disappointed that a mention of Jaime and Cersei is a trigger for Bran. It wouldn’t have changed so much if Bran remembered who pushed him off but as matters lie now, Bran not only still doesn’t know but he (understandably) doesn’t even care anymore. I don’t know why Martin even brought this little bit of PTSD up if he’s never going to use it, but I guess there might be some final twist waiting somewhere to be used, though I very much doubt it.