Bran rides Dancer into the Great Hall to inaugurate the harvest feast. People in attendance include Rickon, Ser Rodrik, Maester Luwin, Lord Wyman, Lady Donella, Leobald, Cley, Hother, Mors, Mikken, Hodor, Osha, Joseth, Little Walder, Big Walder, Beth, Old Nan, Farlen, Hayhead, Tym and Skittrick. Part way through the feast, Alebelly enters to announce the arrival of Meera and Jojen Reed, who reaffirm the loyalty of the crannogmen to Winterfell and join the feast. Soon after the dancing begins, Bran takes his leave and returns to his room. As he lies in bed, he remembers how his father once told him that Ser Arthur Dayne would have killed him if not for Howland Reed. Once asleep, he finds himself inside the wolf dream as Summer. Summer and Shaggydog note strangers approaching. It is Meera and Jojen. Jojen comes forward to touch Summer, and when he does, Bran is knocked out of the wolf dream.
This was a surprisingly uplifting Bran chapter. I don’t get to say that very often but it’s true, what with the music and the dancing and the wolf dreams and our introduction to the thoroughly likable Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds appearance here seems a little less eventful than I remember it being though it is a welcome introduction not just because Bran is way too morose to be spending too many more chapters with but also because I’m absolutely fascinated by Jojen and his many prophecies and what they all mean. Once again though, while Martin goes through great pains to describe every small occurrence and every dish prepared fairly little happens in this chapter, just like the ones preceding it. That’s not really a bad thing; like I said, I don’t really mind the general glee and fun as we get a better sense of what a ‘normal’ Winterfell looks and feels like but it does leave me in the odd position of liking a chapter but not really having much to comment on so to make up for it, I’ll just comment on the odd line here and there that brings a thought to my head until I get to the last bit of the chapter concerning Jojen, the wolf dreams and Bran’s connection to them.
Ser Rodrik reminded him to send something to his foster brothers, so he sent Little Walder some boiled beets and Big Walder the buttered turnips.
Ok, so I like my veggies so I can’t really tell whether Bran sending them the beets and the turnips is supposed to be his little ‘fuck you’ to the boys that bully him or if he just genuinely did as he was told and sent some food their way. Otherwise, I think this is a particularly good place to have a discussion of Martin’s writing style, specifically with regard to the rather exuberant description of food and the general ambience of the hall – be it the type of people there, the music or what those people were up to. One simple explanation is world-building; these descriptions long and arguably excessive as they are, are nevertheless a good way of really bringing Winterfell to life. This is especially the case given that the vast, overwhelming majority of us have never been to a medieval-era keep and most likely never will. Whether or not it’s just ‘padding’ and ‘fluff’ really depends on how you read your literature – The Lord of the Rings is practically infamous in how Tolkien painstakingly describes every detail of every scene but I think we’ve reached a point where most wouldn’t really reproach him for it. I guess if you’re primary concern with any work is in the plot, then these descriptions are indeed just filler that could easily be done away with but if you’re interested in world that Martin has created rather than just this one particular story that takes place in it, then these descriptions are certainly enriching. Having said that though, I lean towards the side that would label them filler even though I quite like the descriptions in this chapter and the effect they have.
“Mudmen,” answered Little Walder disdainfully. “They’re thieves and cravens, and they have green teeth from eating frogs.”
Well, anyone the Freys dislike, I instantly have a slightly higher opinion of. Interestingly, if you look at the map of Westeros, it turns out that Greywater Watch and the Twins aren’t too far apart and I’m going to assume that that’s how the mistrust of the Crannogmen was born in little shits like Little Walder. Being labelled thieves and cravens basically just means that they didn’t accept when idiots like Little Walder walked up to them and yelled ‘Come at me, bro!’ but instead conducted guerrilla warfare, which is what smart people do when facing enemies that are bigger and outnumber them.
Anyway, what those relatively minor points out of the way, let’s get to what I’d consider the meat of the chapter – the two newest guests at Winterfell, Meera and Jojen Reed. My first question for this dynamic duo is how the two of them managed to get to Winterfell. As we’ve seen, even in times of peace and stability the North isn’t the safest place to roam around – Bran was accosted by Osha fairly close to Winterfell itself, yet these two children were able to navigate their way to Winterfell without anything happening to them. Where’s their honour guard? Don’t these lords and ladies usually travel with a bunch of men-at-arms or something? If I had to guess, I’d say that since Jojen knows the day he will die (and I would suspect, he would also know the circumstances of his death) he can be fairly sure that nothing will happen to him until that time. Still, I can’t imagine my parents (who is Mrs. Howland Reed, anyway?) letting me wander off miles and miles away even in the safest part of the world.
The next bit of discussion centres on their curious oath. The last bit of the oath invokes the first men, in my mind at least – earth and water feels like a link to the Children of the Forest and their affinity to nature. Bronze and iron are the metals of the First Men (it was the Andals that brought steel to Westeros if memory serves me) and lastly there is the eponymous ice and fire from the series title. When I first read the oath I got hyped because I thought that somehow, somewhere down the line we would finally find out what this series is all about at the end of the day but now that my innocent dreams have been so cruelly shattered all I can do is stare at the shattered pieces and weep. Anyway, I figure it’s also a way for Martin to remind us that the Crannogmen hold a closer relation to the old alliance between the Children of the Forest and the First Men than some of the more ‘globalized’ people of the North. What that means in the bigger scheme of things is anyone’s guess.
“The black one is full of fear and rage, but the grey is strong . . . stronger than he knows . . . can you feel him, sister?”
It seems clear to me that Jojen is actually referring to the direwolves’ owners rather than the beasts themselves when he talks about their fear and strength…or is he? Can Jojen sense that Bran is inside Summer at the time? I feel sure that he does actually ask Bran about it but I wonder if his greenseeing powers allow him to sense wargs or something. Let’s assume for the moment that he’s not talking about the two Stark boys via metaphor but is in fact referring to the animals’ own state of mind (which we can quite reasonably assume to reflect the boys’). Rickon being full of fear and rage is probably a merger of Rickon’s own fear at the increasing number of unfamiliar faces at Winterfell and Shaggydog’s own bestial rage but Summer’s strength? How does one even measure a wolf’s strength?