A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 23

Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Today’s entry is Part 23 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 40 (“Bran”) and Chapter 41 (“Jon”).

Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.

And now, the post!

Before we begin, quick scheduling note: As some of you probably already know, the fifth annual JordanCon is happening juuust slightly less than a month from now, and yours truly is not only going, I will be this year’s Toastmaster. Which is super exciting, but also means I am going to be insanely, nay, maniacally busy in that general temporal arena, and thereafter temporarily mostly dead until I recover.

Therefore! The Read of Ice and Fire will be on hiatus for the Fridays of both April 19th and 26th. Take note, me hearties.


Chapter 40: Bran

What Happens
Bran, Meera, Jojen, Hodor and Summer come to an abandoned village near a lake with a tower on an island in it. Bran explains that the land here, fifty leagues out to the Wall, was gifted to the Night’s Watch, but since the Watch’s decline the people have moved away for fear of wildlings’ raids. Jojen senses a storm coming, but the village buildings are rotted out, and Bran suggests going to the tower. Meera points out they have no boat, but Bran tells them Old Nan told him that there is a causeway from the shore to the island hidden under the water. They find the causeway and cross to the island safely (leaving Summer behind), though Hodor almost falls twice.

At the tower, they initially cannot get beyond the strongroom entrance, until Bran pulls the grating loose from the murder hole in the ceiling. They get Hodor up through it with some difficulty, and climb up to the roof, where they marvel at the clear view for leagues around. Bran asks what they will do when they get to the Wall, and Jojen answers that they will try to get through or over it via one of the abandoned castles along its periphery. Bran thinks they should just go to Castle Black and find Jon and his uncle, but Jojen says the risk of the news of Bran’s survival getting back to the ironmen or Bolton is too great.

They see a lone rider approaching the village in the distance, and go back inside the tower to avoid being seen. It starts to rain, and Meera reports that the rider has taken shelter at the remains of the village inn. Jojen refuses to let them have a fire, so they eat their dinner cold. After darkness falls, the rain strengthens to a thunderstorm, which frightens Hodor badly; he grabs a sword and begins bellowing “HODOR.” Meera takes the sword from him, and Bran begs Hodor to quiet down so they won’t be heard. Jojen goes to the window and sees that there are more men in the village now; he can see that they’re armed and unmounted, but little else, except that there are “too many to count.” They argue about whether the men are likely to try to come to the tower for shelter, but then Hodor grows terrified again and starts shouting, ignoring the others’ pleas for him to be quiet.

“Be quiet!” Bran said in a shrill scared voice, reaching up uselessly for Hodor’s leg as he crashed past, reaching, reaching.

Hodor staggered, and closed his mouth. He shook his head slowly from side to side, sank back to the floor, and sat crosslegged. When the thunder boomed, he scarcely seemed to hear it.

Stunned, Meera asks what Bran did. Bran says he doesn’t know, but to himself thinks that he had reached for Hodor the same way he did Summer, and had been Hodor for a moment. The realization frightens him. Jojen reports that he thinks he saw one of the men point at the Tower, but Bran points out that the men don’t know about the causeway, and probably couldn’t find it in the dark and storm even if they did. Jojen worries about what will happen in the morning, though. Bran lets himself slip into Summer’s skin, and sees through the wolf’s eyes the men huddling in the ruins, and smells their fear.

Who are the men in the village? It won’t be Samwell et al, because Bran’s quite right that they would be mounted. Maybe it’s Jon’s group? Ooh, because then Jon and Bran would be reunited, yes? Yes! Maybe! Hopefully! I suspect I will find out in the next chapter!

Meanwhile: Whoa. Bran warged Hodor! And apparently the power of warging includes mind control! Or something! Egad.

I mean, that was sort of implied already, maybe, with Bran’s adventures with Summer, but if so I don’t think that was explicitly laid out, mainly because from what I recall Bran was mostly just along for the ride. If he ever made Summer do something Summer didn’t actually want to do, I can’t remember it off the top of my head.

Anyway, well. That’s… kind of cool, but the implications are more creepy than they are cool, honestly. I’m sure I don’t need to point out all the ways in which such an ability could be used for morally dubious purposes—or just flat-out evil ones, too.

That said, if Bran actually gets this ability under control it would be one hell of an effective self-defense mechanism. Which given Bran’s relatively helpless physical state is something he needs pretty badly. So, hopefully he will use it and not abuse it, right?

Also, I have to wonder whether warging people, and not just direwolf familiars, is an ability unique to Bran, or whether all the Stark children could do it if they knew to try.

Because if so, uh. Wow. I’m fairly wide-eyed just mulling over the possible consequences of such a scenario. Because for damn sure not all of them would be good.

Also, Hodor is really not a fan of thunderstorms, apparently. I think that’s probably perfectly understandable for someone who appears to have the mentality of a child, but my paranoia still leads me to wonder if there isn’t more to it than that.

Other, much more random notes:

I am oddly charmed by the idea of a walkway to an island hidden just under the water. Maybe because you could make “walking on water” jokes while doing it. Because I am very strange sometimes. Although admittedly, a bridge you have to get wet while crossing would probably not be nearly as much fun in the dead of winter. Which I hear is coming.

Also, “murder hole” is such a chillingly awesome term. You’ve got to love the days when violence and architecture needed to complement each other to the point that “murder” is a descriptive adjective for it.

Relatedly, the mention of the privy chute in the tower reminds me of a story my 7th grade History teacher told us once, about how the invention of such things actually led to the overthrow of a castle, as the chute created an overlooked gap in the fortifications that the invading soldiers used to get inside the fortress and take it from the inside. She took great glee in grossing us out with the description of what it must have been like for the invaders to squirm up a tunnel encrusted with years’ worth of shit and piss—though of course she didn’t phrase it exactly like that. (Mrs. Miller’s philosophy was that you do what you need to to make things stick in her students’ minds, and I guess she had a point because here it is *mumblety* years later and I still recall that particular lecture vividly, along with several other of her infamous “gory stories.” She was one of the more awesome teachers I ever had.)


Chapter 41: Jon

What Happens
As Jon and Ygritte ride through Brandon’s Gift south of the Wall, Ygritte is astounded by the size of the small towers dotted about; Jon longs to show her Winterfell, but knows it will never happen. Jon explains to her how many of the holdfasts were abandoned because of raiders, and Ygritte says they should have stayed and fought if they’d wanted the land. Jon says maybe they got tired of having everything stolen from them all the time, but Ygritte counters that it is the southern kings who stole everything, instead of leaving the land for all to share.

Jon points out that they steal women too, and Ygritte answers that a man would have to be very brave and cunning to steal her, so why wouldn’t she like that? Jon asks, what if the man beats her, and Ygritte tells him she would slit his throat as he slept if he did. Jon is reminded sharply of how different they are, and knows he cannot risk telling her the truth about his purpose. Jon tries to explain to her that there is no way Mance’s plan will work, that disciplined troops beat even the bravest when they do not fight as one, but Ygritte does not believe him.

Jon worries about how he will escape the wildlings, who keep a very close eye on him, and worries even more that even aside from Ygritte, he is getting to know and like many of Styr’s men. He agonizes over how much he’s been forced to tell the Magnar about Castle Black, and how fundamentally undefended the place will be with the rangers all gone; he knows that if the raiders reach Castle Black before Jon can warn them it will be a slaughter.

They find a ruined village next to a lake for shelter as a storm approaches. By the time Jon gets there, the other raiders have found and captured a lone rider, an old man, who’d reached the place first, and are going through his things. Jon tries not to think about the fact that they will kill the man. Ygritte sits with him by the lake, and mentions that some of the guards thought they heard shouting from the island tower, but Jon dismisses it as thunder. He tells her the story of the queen who visited the place until a Thenn interrupts with a summons from the Magnar.

Jon and Ygritte go to the remains of the inn, where Styr commands Jon to kill the old man. Jon remembers what Qhorin Halfhand had told him about doing whatever he had to to keep his cover, and tries to convince himself to do it, but finds that he cannot. Ygritte urges him to prove he is no crow, but Jon refuses, telling Styr he commands Thenns, not free folk. Styr replies that he only sees a crow and “his crow wife,” and Ygritte shrieks that she is no crow wife, and leaps to slit the old man’s throat.

Styr gives a command, but no one has time to react, as a huge creature attacks them out of nowhere, killing a man instantly and causing chaos. Jon thinks at first it is Ghost, but then sees that while it is a wolf, it is grey, not white. He realizes this is the best chance he will get, and leaps into the fray, cutting down the wildling holding the old man’s horse and leaping astride. He gallops off into the night wildly, stopping hours later to find he’d been shot in the leg with an arrow. He forces the arrow through the muscle, almost passing out from the pain, and wonders if it is one of Ygritte’s. He binds the wound as best he can, and sets out for Castle Black, feeling hollow inside.

As I click to the next page and see the header “Jon”: Ooh!

As I get to the part where Jon tells Ygritte about Brandon’s Gift, where they are: Ooh!

Yay, I was right! Are Jon and Bran gonna meet are they huh huh are they ooh yay *crosses fingers*

At the end of the chapter: GODDAMMIT!

*flips table over*

Man, that was just mean.

Sigh. Well, I did kind of figure it would have been too good to be true. Not to mention, it would have been fairly disastrous if they had met under the circumstances, considering Jon was surrounded by raiders with orders to kill “kneelers” on sight. So, fine.

But still. Am sad now.

But! Jon got away from the raiders! With Summer’s help! (And Bran’s help?) Yay!

So now I’m dying to know, assuming that Bran was still warging it up with Summer during the attack, how much Bran actually understood of what was going on after seeing it via direwolf filter. Did he know it was Jon? Was that why Summer attacked? Did he see how it ended and that Jon got away? Maybe Bran will be able to convince the others to follow Jon! Because Summer could totally track him considering Jon’s leaving a blood trail a mile wide! Maybe I will still have my reunion after all!

Assuming the raiders don’t get to Jon first, of course. Ygritte, at least, will be highly motivated to find Jon. Probably to kill him more than to get her man back, assuming the other raiders don’t kill her first for Jon’s betrayal, because I’m pretty sure Ygritte’s not going to take said betrayal very well at all.

Speaking of which, Jon actually left Ygritte behind, wow. I kind of wondered if he would have the will to do it, before; Martin has been doing an excellent job of conveying the terrible dilemma Jon’s feelings for her presented to him. Of course, the way things fell out, he didn’t exactly have a lot of time to agonize over the decision once the opportunity to escape presented itself, which probably made it easier, but even so, I am impressed. And sad for Jon as well, of course. First loves are often a rocky experience, but I think this one probably qualifies for Very Large Boulder status.

(Geddit? Because, “rocky,” and boulders, and… hey, where are you going?)

It distresses me that Jon has apparently lost contact with Ghost. You wouldn’t think mystical animal familiar soul bonds could be stretched beyond capacity, but if any fictional universe were to allow such a thing, it would be this one. Well, maybe it’ll snap back once Jon and Ghost both reach Castle Black and are in close proximity again. Assuming that happens, of course.

Other notes:

“In Oldtown there’s a tower taller than the Wall.” [Jon] could tell [Ygritte] did not believe him.

I wouldn’t either, honestly, because if the earlier assertions that the Wall is seven hundred feet tall are accurate, then that’s taller than most modern skyscrapers. (As a metric, One Shell Square, the tallest building in New Orleans (and Louisiana), is fifty-one stories and just under seven hundred feet in height. That’s not all that impressive compared to many of the skyscrapers in New York (not to even mention this ridiculousness), but rest assured, from a pseudo-medievalish perspective that is fucking tall.) And see, there’s a reason people couldn’t build freestanding structures that high before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Yes, even if they’d had giants to help, Mr. Martin. So, yeah.

“A man can own a woman or a man can own a knife,” Ygritte told him, “but no man can own both. Every little girl learns that from her mother.”

*raises eyebrow* As tempting as it is to nod along with this in a spirit of feminine kickassedness solidarity, I… have some issues with the logic of this particular aphorism. Even setting aside the “a man can own a woman” bit of it, which makes my eye twitch on general principle.

Because, WTF, over. I would just really like to know how Ygritte (and all the wildlings, really) reconciles her fierce allegiance to the notion of “being free” to her astounding apparent concurrent belief that one person can steal/own another—as long as the owned person is female. I try to avoid saying this phrase as a general rule, but sometimes there’s nothing else for it: that is fucking patriarchy, right there.

Ugh. It may not be a formalized slavery deal, and yeah cultural jargon different word meanings yadda, but the very fact that the wildlings’ most supposedly female-empowering proverb equates a woman with an inanimate object makes me want to throw something. A knife, maybe.


Anyway. Aside from some very large sticking points, philosophically, I do like and admire Ygritte quite a bit, and am rather sad that it doesn’t currently look like her and Jon’s love was meant to be. That said, I tend to doubt very much that we’ve seen the last of Ygritte, so who knows.

Not me, fo sho! Have a weekend! Come back Friday!


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