[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Bran VI


Summary:

a-clash-of-kings

Bran is inside Summer and hears strange noises in the night. He howls to raise the alarm, but no one hears. Shaggydog comes up; he has smelled it too. There are foes in the night. Summer hurls himself against the gates, but they will not budge. Bran gives him the thought of climbing one of the tall trees. Summer tries it, but falls, and Bran wakes up. He calls for his guards before remembering that no one is there. Ser Rodrik took most of the men from the castle and the nearby holdfasts eight days ago. All told, he has six hundred men and will be joined by three hundred more led by Cley Cerwyn. They are marching to relieve Torrhen’s Square, which is besieged by Dagmer. Maester Luwin has been sending ravens to summon more men from White Harbor, the barrowlands, and the wolfswood. Werlag comes into Bran’s room, followed by Theon, who informs Bran that he has taken Winterfell. He sent four men over the walls, and they opened a postern gate to let the others in. He tells Bran that he will bring everyone to the Great Hall, where Bran will yield the castle to him, and then leaves. Maester Luwin arrives after a while. He says that Alebelly was killed and Hayhead wounded. He got two birds off before he was taken. The one to White Harbor got away, but the other was shot down. He tells Bran he must protect his smallfolk and yield the castle. Lorren comes to get him, and they are joined on the way to the Great Hall by Rickon, Meera, Jojen, Little Walder, and Big Walder. When they arrive, Theon is sitting in the high seat. Others that have been herded in include Old Nan, Hayhead, Poxy Tym, Beth, Gage, Osha, Mikken, Farlen, Palla, Septon Chayle, and Hodor. Reek is brought in last of all. As Theon begins to speak, Mikken continually insults him until Stygg finally kills him. Hodor starts bellowing, and Theon has his men beat the stableboy bloody. Reek speaks up and says Theon will need men, and Theon accepts him into his service. Osha speaks up as well, saying she resents being in the kitchens and wants to fight again. After she disarms Stygg, Theon agrees to take her as well. Theon dismisses the assembled crowd after that, and Hodor takes Bran back to his room.

Source

Commentary:

And just like that, in the space of half a chapter, Winterfell has fallen and the sun begins to set on  Robb’s kingdom. This scene went very much as I remembered it, but knowing the tragic fate that awaits all the characters in the chapter, Theon included, gives the chapter a very different hue. When I first read it, Theon was the ultimate party pooper. Robb was waging a war, and all was going as well as could be reasonably expected, and then suddenly Theon appears and fucks it all up. My anger towards Theon hasn’t disappeared on this re-read but it has been somewhat muted by my knowledge of the horrors that await him in Ramsay’s tender, loving care.

Through the gloom of night came a muffled shout, cut short.

I had absolutely no idea that Bran saw Theon approach through Summer. It’s unlikely that Summer and Shaggydog could have had any real influence on events but this does provide a rather unique perspective on events though I’m not really a fan of the scenes written through a warg-ed perspective. It becomes such a tedious challenge to sift through the scene and isolate the bits that are relevant to the humans.

Bran did not understand. “But you’re Father’s ward.”

I thought this was a great way of showing just where Bran’s head is at this stage. A big part of his response in this chapter is just the shock of Winterfell now belonging to Theon but in Bran’s head, Theon was and always will be Ned’s ward, much like how Robb is and always will be brother. It’s not that Bran is incapable of understanding that the situation has changed but more that Theon’s position as ward had a permanence in Bran’s head that he can’t shake off.

“Bran,” he said, “you . . . know what has happened? You have been told?” The skin was broken above his left eye, and blood ran down that side of his face.

I don’t understand what kind of person would hit someone like Luwin. Luwin has got to be one of the most harmless, non-threatening people in the entire series. He is as close to the definition of a kindly old man as Martin can get and so you can understand if my blood boils when I see him get bullied by brutes like these Ironborn. One interpretation of their disdain for the Maesters is that they feel threatened by their intelligence or, alternatively, that they associate the Maesters with the foreign influences that brought their proud culture to ruin. No matter their logic, hitting people as gentle and kind as Luwin and Hodor is unforgivable. Apart from that, Luwin’s plight is also a reminder that the tragedy at Winterfell doesn’t only involve Bran and Theon and their likes but also the less celebrated characters like Luwin, Rodrik Cassel and so on.

It’s blood he drowned on, Bran thought numbly. His own blood.

We’ll skip ahead to the chapter’s end for a moment before doubling back because one of Luwin’s lines warrants a proper discussion. Regarding Jojen’s green dream, I can’t decide whether or not it is a massive cop out that the drowning was a drowning in blood specifically. Didn’t Jojen specifically see the sea come to drown them? I don’t want to revisit the issue of how a vision that comes to Jojen ‘naturally’ is capable of making connections between Theon and the sea but the point does still stand. On the other hand, drowning in your own blood is a pretty creative way of fulfilling the drowning part of the vision, but if I had to choose, I’m still going to go with cop-out.

“I’ll have me the wood and iron.” The bald man writhed on the floor while the other reavers sent up gales of laughter.

I find it both interesting and very fitting that the Ironborn and Wildlings understand each other so well. If you think about it, they are both highly anti-authority groups – the Ironborn and Wildlings both recognize their leaders based on their own criteria. In a sense, like the Dothraki, they follow strength though of slightly different kinds. We note however, that being compared to the Dothraki and Wildlings is not a compliment – unlike the former duo, the Ironborn have been in constant contact with the more ‘civilized’ society of Westeros but despite that their ideology doesn’t seem to have progressed in any way in all that time.

“There is no shame in that. A lord must protect his smallfolk. Cruel places breed cruel peoples, Bran, remember that as you deal with these ironmen. Your lord father did what he could to gentle Theon, but I fear it was too little and too late.”

There are a few talking points here and each warrant some length. The first is whether or not every lord receives Luwin’s basic training 101: a lord must protect his smallfolk. You would think that they at least get the Cliffnotes version but I’m not so sure – I can’t see Tywin telling Jaime and Cersei that they must protect the smallfolk. There is definitely some truth to his claim that cruel places breed cruel men – the Dothraki, Unsullied and the Wildlings are all good examples but then that brings us to the question of whether those cruel places justify the cruel people. Should we just shrug and excuse the Ironborn of their war crimes because of the harshness of their environments? Of course not, but I guess neither can we be surprised when animals behave according to their nature. The last bit revolves around Luwin’s comment about Ned doing what he could to ‘gentle’ Theon. It’s odd that Luwin considers it too little too late; Theon reached Winterfell when he was eight years old and has been there ever since. It isn’t difficult to change an eight year old’s perspective of things and we know from Theon’s own chapters that Ned was at least partially successfully in ‘gentling’ him. Unfortunately, that leaves Theon a little in limbo since no matter how gentle he is, he will always be the ward and the hostage but at the same time, this mental conditioning (which has a negative connotation, though it is largely positive in this context) has left him unable to properly assimilate back into Ironborn society. This chapter is yet another perfect example of how Theon comes ever so close to understanding the Ironborn only to veer hopelessly off course again: Winterfell is an enormous prize, by any standard, and the Ironborn thing to do would be to sack the castle, plunder and pillage it and then leave. The Ironborn aren’t proper, organized fighters; they’re raiders, pure and simple. By taking Winterfell, Theon could have instantly catapulted himself to the top of Ironborn misery index but instead, his upbringing kicked in and he got delusions of being a lord and ruling – see how he tries to placate the smallfolk and assure them that he will be kind and gentle? The real Ironborn would have killed the whole bunch and made off with the loot. Theon stays and in doing so, sabotages himself yet again – the people of Winterfell and the North despise him for being a turncloak (though, in his defence, he is either a hostage or a turncloak; he can’t be both) and the Ironborn lose respect for him for not following their ways. Somehow despite all that, it’s not hard to see the mental gears are turning in his head – he has finally gotten what he and Jon Snow, the outsiders in Winterfell always wanted: he is the Lord of Winterfell, a prince in his own right and finally equal to Robb and the other Starks. It is a pitifully petty motivation when you think about it but all the more tragic for it.

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