This post has spoilers for George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, including fan theories and speculation. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
Rounding out our list of first chapters – well, except for Samwell, who’ll come in a little late to the party – we have Bran the Broken! This isn’t a name that he’s particularly fond of, mind you, as he keeps reminding us in this chapter but I won’t tell if you don’t. The chapter opens like so many Bran chapters feel like they do: with Bran warged into Summer and unwilling to return to his crippled, whiny body. Now, I’m not really hating on Bran or anything but the truth is that his chapters are just a lot of work to get through. Of all the viewpoint characters in A Storm of Swords, Bran suffers the most because his chapters tend to wander more than anyone else’s; with the sole exception of Brienne, Bran spends more time just wandering around with nothing of consequence happening to him. This chapter is a good case in point – and the characters aren’t even moving! They make the decision to head North and beyond the Wall but it feels like this could just as easily have been put into the end of the previous chapters at the end of Clash – that way, we could have skipped this chapter and joined Bran when he was already well on his way to the Wall.
“Four and one more, the white who has no voice.”
One of the things that I do like about this chapter is that we learn more about Summer and his connection to other wolves and direwolves. More and more, when Bran enters Summer, we see that he brings an increasing amount of his identity with him. Summer thinks like a human – in this chapter, for example, he thinks of himself as a Prince, which, when you think about it, is a decidedly human thing to do. Also, consider how strange it really is for a direwolf to be having thoughts about something as abstract as princedom though most of the wolf’s thoughts are very primitive and deal strictly with simple senses and animalistic perception. Apart from all that, I’ve always found myself quite fascinated by Martin’s commentary on the social dynamics of wolves. It’s like a National Geographic documentary but Martin’s voice instead of David Attenborough’s. We should also wonder a little about why Ghost is constantly being described as being voiceless. I don’t think we hear Ghost bark (hence his name) but I don’t know if that’s because Ghost can’t bark or because he chooses not to. There has to be some deeper significance to it, but I just can’t put my finger on what.
“Bran,” he said sullenly. Bran the Broken. “Brandon Stark.” The cripple boy. “The Prince of Winterfell.” Of Winterfell burned and tumbled, its people scattered and slain.
Ah damn it – as much as I find Bran to be whiny in the way only nine year olds can be, it’s hard not to feel for him. It’s perfectly understandable for Bran to want to stay in a wolf’s body – wolves are faster, stronger and just different from people. Honestly, even an able bodied (ish) male, I can totally see the appeal of warging into a creature that was so different from me and experiencing lfie from its perspective. When you factor in Bran’s disability, and remember that as a boy he wanted to ride horses and go on hunts and kill people, then you realize why he’s so happy in inhabiting a body that’s capable of doing all of that – ok, maybe not riding a horse, but you get the point. The question that I have is what Summer himself experiences when Bran’s consciousness forces itself into Summer’s mind. From the sounds of it, Summer acquiesces fairly easily. Now, that’s probably just because Summer and Bran are Bonded but then does that mean that Bran can only warg into Summer? Does it mean that Bran can only warg into non-bonded animals? What would happen if Bran tried to warg into Ghost, for example? There are interesting parallels to the idea that a dragon can have only one rider.
How would you know? Bran thought resentfully. You’ve never been a warg, you don’t know what it’s like.
This is hilariously petulant but at the same time, a very valid point. I have yet to fully understand how much Jojen really knows. We know that the range of his green dreams seems to be limited to himself – he knows the things that he himself will see and experience, or if we give that definition a little leeway, things that are relevant to him. The question I’m asking though is this: what does Jojen know that he hasn’t shared yet? Jojen’s future looks bleak; his TV counterpart was violently stabbed to death by wights and even at the end of ADWD, Jojen’s absence is ominous (see the Jojen paste theory). If he is going to die in the books as well, I really want a scene from him where he reveals the full extent of everything he knows – specifically about Jon and the whole deal with Lyanna and Rhaegar. If the Jojen Paste Theory is true, well then, Jojen turned out to be disappointingly uninformative.
“The road from Greywater to Winterfell went on forever, and we were mounted then. You want us to travel a longer road on foot, without even knowing where it ends. Beyond the Wall, you say. I haven’t been there, no more than you, but I know that Beyond the Wall’s a big place, Jojen. Are there many three-eyed crows, or only one? How do we find him?”
This is one of those amusingly practical concerns that Martin’s writing is chockfull of. In other writers, the journey from point A to B doesn’t often deal with logistics of travelling by road or concerns of food supply and so on. In quests of this nature, traditional fantasy expects the quest seeker to just know where to go, as though by some divine intuition. After reading the slower, more painful Bran chapters, sometimes I wish Martin could be a little more Tolkienesque. In any case, this particular line really drives home just how hopelessly out of their depth these three kids and Hodor are. They have no real plan, no real backup and honestly, in any other world, they would be dead of disease and malnutrition in a month. Still, between Sam, Coldhands and Jojen’s prophetic dreams, they are somehow able to get themselves to Bloodraven, though whether they will ever return is up for debate.
No matter where he went, to Karhold or White Harbor or Greywater Watch, he’d be a cripple when he got there.
At the end of this chapter, I find myself really wondering what the point of it was. I guess we needed a chapter to check in on Bran but it felt that the purpose of this chapter was really to prove to the readers that there was no place for Bran to logically go at this juncture. I’m not sure I really buy the practicality of it; sure, Karhold and White Harbor and the rest all have concerns and are fairly far, but honestly speaking, the only rationalization that is worth anything is Bran’s. If Martin wanted Bran to be in White Harbor, all the reasons that surfaced here could have been waved away. Instead, what decided the matter was that it was important that Bran realize how unhappy he was being a cripple – it is his desire, misguided though it is, to walk again that sends him on his way to the Wall and beyond.