Bran is watching men arrive in Winterfell for the army Robb’s gathering. The latest (and last) arrivals are the Karstarks — a thousand-year-old offshoot of House Stark, they are descendents of Karlon Stark. Bran doesn’t think the look like Starks, but he looks like a Tully, so I don’t think he should talk. In a society where genetics and heredity are so closely tied to appearance, Catelyn sure didn’t do a good job of giving birth to Stark-looking children, did she, only one out of five. I suspect if Robb looked like Ned instead of her, she wouldn’t hate Jon quite so much. (I was looking through my previous entries to check if I already shared this theory when I realized that I use the word “hate” a lot when writing these.)
Bran is frustrated that he can’t do anything but watch the proceedings through a spy-glass. He gives us a rundown of the various banners: bear, moose, battle-axe, flayed man, trees, roaring giant. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is nightmare fuel, what the fuck?! I’ll be honest, I’m a bit uncomfortable re-reading this series under the shadow of the Boltons’ flayed man. Some gruesomeness I can live without.
Robb’s army is now 12-thousand-men strong. Bran wants to know how many knights and Luwin is frustrated with the boy’s idolization of the title, partly because it’s tied into the Faith of the Seven and so the largely Old-Faith-following North has few that bear it. Robb will pick up some more men during his march south to the Riverlands, a march he’ll soon start, leaving Bran the oldest Stark in Winterfell.
Some of these new arrivals laugh at Bran as he makes his way from the guard tower to the godswood, riding in a basket on Hodor’s back. And here’s my one criticism of GRRM: why didn’t he have Bran ride around on Summer?! How cool would that be, to ride around on a direwolf! He’s a skinny eight-year-old, I’m sure a mythical monster wolf can handle that easily.
The godswood has become a place for solace for Bran. He comes there to sit and think and commune with the old gods. I don’t know what his relationship was with his father’s religion before Jaime tried to kill him, but I’m guessing it’s easier for him to immerse himself in it now that he can no longer be a knight anyway. It should be noted that Bran has some pretty legitimate prayers: he doesn’t want to lose any more of his family, and he wants the ones that left to come home safe. Also, he wants Rickon to be able to get through this horrible time. Bran, like Jon, is pretty good at being a sibling. Rickon needs all the divine help he can get: news of Robb going away sent him into a complete breakdown, which he handled like a real man, that is to say, by assaulting people with a sword and his near-rabid direwolf. Even toddler Starks are hardcore.
Robb’s being pretty hardcore too. Unsurprisingly, the Stark vassals are not all that thrilled that a fifteen-year-old is ordering them around. Also, a few of them have female progeny of marriageable age, hint hint.
Me and everyone else who’s read the books: Robb, trust us, just marry the Mormont girl now, save us all a lot of heartache later!
(If only we could “choose your own adventure” novels like that.)
Robb’s been handling all the threats of mutiny and doubts as to his leadership ability fairly well. When Lord Umber drew his sword in response to Robb’s calling his bluff, Grey Wind ate two of the man’s fingers. I still don’t understand why all these people insist on attacking kids with direwolf pets. What did this Umber think was going to happen?
Side note: isn’t it just like Robb to name his wolf Grey Wind? A name that evokes strength, nobility, and utter blandness.
Of course, after having his bodyparts become wolf chow, Umber became Robb’s right hand. Well, half a hand.
Robb later confessed to Bran that he was actually terrified at that moment — as any sane person would be when a giant threatens him with a sword — and I think it makes his behaviour all the more admirable. The boys have good reason to be utterly panicked right now, the news they’ve been getting from the south is little more than gossip, so they only vaguely know what happened in King’s Landing and aren’t even entirely sure where their father is now. Sansa’s letter reached them, the one Cersei dictated. You know what Robb noticed about it? That it had not a word about Arya. Because boys are better at being siblings than girls! (Did GRRM have a sister he really didn’t get along with? It’s starting to feel personal.) We find out at this point that Lady’s bones were brought back to Winterfell and buried there. It was just another reminder to Bran that going south has not turned out well for Starks, so he’s asking the gods to watch over Robb when he goes and no, there isn’t anything in my eyes, I’m just crying, ok?
Bran’s interrupted by Osha, one of the wildlings that attacked him way back when, she’s been set to work in Winterfell’s kitchens. All wildlings follow the Old Religion, so she comes to the godswood to pray too. She tells Bran that the rustling of the winds is an answer from the gods. Her translation is not comforting: the gods of the north can’t do anything to help someone going south. Bran, I wish I could contradict her, but all I can say is that I’d take the Old Gods’ impotence over GRRM’s capable hand.
Hodor charges in naked and we find out that there are still giants beyond the Wall. Osha tells Bran about giants and then about the wights, the ones who have “blue eyes and cold black hands.” Oh, look, that matches the description of the zombies that are currently either burning or eating Jon’s brains. Pretend you’re a first-time reader: sure, there are more Jon chapters to come, but at this point, can you be sure GRRM isn’t twisted enough to make Jon a zombie POV character? Osha’s been trying to warn Robb that the real war is coming from the north. Is there a law that says every fantasy epic has to have a world-breaking dark force threatening the world while 90% of the political leaders of the world refuse to believe it?
Other: humanoid beings with white skin and icy blue eyes; renamed into “White Walkers” for the HBO show, because J.J. Abrams has trademarked the word “Others.”
Wight: a human corpse raised as a zombie by the Others; also blue-eyed.
Robb’s busy war-planning and whatnot, so it’s up to Bran to host the guest-welcoming dinner. He welcome the guests and the guests point at him and say that he’s too much of a coward to commit noble suicide. How nice. Bran tells Luwin that he still wants to be a knight. Luwin offers him a career as a maester as an alternative. Yeah, I don’t think that’s the stuff an eight-year-old boy’s dreams are made of. Bran would rather learn magic and finally learn how to fly the way the three-eyed crow from his dreams has promised. He shares with Luwin what he’s learned from Osha. Luwin is, of course, the plot-required sceptic.
Two days later, Bran is being left the oldest Stark in Winterfell. He’s saying goodbye to Robb. Rickon has refused to come down and do so, because he can very reasonably see that everyone he says “farewell” too has yet to come back. Robb promises he will, and bring Ned back to boot. I’m not even crying anymore, I just want to give Bran a hug. Bran’s last time looking at his brother: Robb is galloping away on his warhorse, the direwolf at his side, as men and women cheer. “Hodor?” Hodor hodors hodorly. “Hodor,” Bran agrees.