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 34 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 56 (“Bran”).
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 in the forums 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, scheduling note: As most of you probably know, next Thursday is July 4th, also known to Americans as the day we Celebrate—Our—INDEPENDENCE! And fight aliens! Okay, not always that last part. But nevertheless, the Fourth of July is a holiday that both I and the good folks at Tor.com wish to enjoy, and therefore there will be no AROIAF post next Thursday. The blog will resume the following Thursday, July 11th.
Chapter 56: Bran
Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds have arrived at the abandoned castle on the Wall called the Nightfort. Bran tries not to think about the terrible dream he and Summer had had about Robb and Grey Wind. Jojen assures Bran there is nothing to be afraid of here, but Bran remembers too well the horrific stories Nan had told him about what had happened centuries ago there, and he finds the whole place very unsettling. Summer doesn’t like it either.
As he had told Jojen, the gate here was sealed when the Night Watch abandoned it two hundred years ago, and Bran says they should have followed Jon to Castle Black. Jojen reminds him that he almost lost Summer helping Jon, and they dared not follow him because of the wildlings. Bran remembers his panic when Summer had been shot, but the direwolf had lived thanks to Meera’s doctoring. Meera suggests they try another castle, but Bran tells them all the gates are sealed except the ones at Castle Black, Eastwatch, and the Shadow Tower.
Meera wants to climb the Wall, just to see, and Bran remembers when he used to be able to climb, and wishes he could go with her, but he can’t. Jojen suggests they look around below while she goes up. Bran agrees reluctantly, but balks at the suggestion they go down into the cellars below the keep. Bran tells Jojen how the Nightfort was the oldest castle on the Wall, and says there are ghosts there, and tells him about the seventy-nine deserters who were brought back and entombed in the ice forever.
They explore for hours, but find only rats, to Bran’s relief. Meera returns to tell them she found no way down from the top of the Wall, at least not for Bran, and asks Jojen if maybe his dream was wrong. Jojen is sure this is the right place, but Bran is skeptical. He remembers the story of Night’s King, who fell in love with a “corpse woman,” enslaved the brothers through sorcery, and was making sacrifices to the Others before the Starks and wildlings joined forces to bring him down, and how Old Nan had claimed he had been a Stark himself. He is not thrilled at the prospect of sleeping there.
They decide to sleep in the kitchens. Bran is unnerved by the large, seemingly bottomless well there; Hodor throws a rock into it, and Bran thinks he hears something move when it hits the water. The Reeds are unimpressed by Bran’s fears, and make dinner while Bran remembers the story of the Rat King, who cooked the Andal prince in a pie and served him to his own father. Bran cannot sleep, and then hears a noise like footsteps, and realizes it is coming from the well. He hears a whimpering sound as well, and resists fleeing to Summer’s body even though he is terrified.
He wakes Meera, who hears the noise too and gathers her weapons. Bran thinks he cannot let her fight alone, and instead of reaching for Summer, this time he reaches for Hodor. He senses Hodor’s terror at being taken over, but ignores it, making Hodor’s body stand and draw his sword. But when some creature lunges from the well, screeching, Hodor throws Bran out and attacks himself instead; Meera catches it in her net, but then it pleads for its life. She demands to know what it is.
“I’m SAM,” the black thing sobbed. “Sam, Sam, I’m Sam, let me out, you stabbed me…” He rolled through the puddle of moonlight, flailing and flopping in the tangles of Meera’s net.
Bran sees it is a fat man, and there is a girl there as well, holding a baby; Bran tells Meera the man is from the Night’s Watch, judging from his clothes. The girl says her name is Gilly. Jojen asks where they came from, and she answers, “Craster’s.” Then Gilly asks if Jojen is “the one.”
“He said that Sam wasn’t the one,” she explained. “There was someone else, he said. The one he was sent to find.”
“Who said?” Bran demanded.
“Coldhands,” Gilly answered softly.
Sam says they were told there would be people in the castle. He explains that he is a steward in the Night Watch, and nearly cries that he couldn’t even find the Wall. Meera points out that he has now, and Jojen demands to know how he got through it. Sam says there is a hidden gate called the Black Gate, but they won’t find it or be able to open it unless Sam takes them to it, because Coldhands said it would only open for a brother of the Watch. The others are mystified by Sam’s description of their rescuer, and Jojen asks if he could have been one of the green men, but Sam replies that he was pale and cold as a wight, but without the blue eyes.
Sam says they should go, Coldhands will be waiting. Meera asks why Coldhands didn’t come with them, and Sam replies that he can’t pass beyond the Wall. Jojen tells him Bran is the one Sam was sent to find, and Sam realizes that Bran is Jon Snow’s brother. Bran begs him not to tell, and Sam is confused, but agrees. Bran tells him Jon is here, how they saw him escape some wildlings, and probably went to Castle Black. They introduce Sam to Summer, too, and Bran decides they will go as soon as he sees Summer likes Sam.
They assure Sam it is safe to leave Gilly and the baby in the castle, and Sam promises her he will come back and take her “somewhere warm.” They pack up and follow Sam into the well, and climb down until they come to a door made of weirwood with a face on it. The face opens its eyes and asks who they are; Sam gives the passcode phrase, and the door opens. They go through.
The door’s upper lip brushed softly against the top of Bran’s head, and a drop of water fell on him and ran slowly down his nose. It was strangely warm, and salty as a tear.
Sam! Hi, Sam! *waves delightedly*
(I like Sam. In case you couldn’t tell.)
Well, I was certainly not expecting that. That was kind of hilarious, actually. Talk about the last two storylines I would ever have expected to tangle together…
So, I guess Jojen’s green dream wasn’t bullshit after all. Also, that’s some serious prophetic synergy going on, there. I am now dying to know what this Coldhands person’s deal is. I am pretty sure, though, that Sam’s dismissal of the theory that he is a green man was probably too hasty. Maybe the “green” title is just symbolic, Sam.
Although, I am a tad confused by the terminology here. I’m assuming “green men” are the same thing as “children of the forest,” but I’m not a hundred percent sure of that. I’m also uncertain about how to reconcile the idea that this Coldhands guy is a magical forest dweller with his clear association with the Night Watch. Maybe he got bored of lurking mysteriously on elk-back in the woods for a living, and decided to moonlight with the brotherhood for a while?
Well, I suppose I’ll find out. In the meantime:
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”
Yes you ARE, baby. I hug you!
…I am possibly a bit disproportionately excited to see Sam at this juncture. But that’s probably understandable, as the number of characters I both like and root for appears to be DWINDLING RAPIDLY, GEORGE R.R. MARTIN. So I’m feeling a bit CLINGY right now. Which is almost certainly a mistake on my part, GEORGE R.R. MARTIN, but fuck it. I need to find something to be happy about here.
Speaking of which: Wait, so Bran knew it was Jon he saw? I don’t remember that! Of course, from my point of view that scene happened about a million years ago, so maybe I’ve just forgotten. Either way, I’m still pissed Bran and Jon didn’t get to actually reunite there, that is such bullshit. I also totally don’t remember Summer getting shot, but I think that might genuinely be because we didn’t know that before now. Or, that my memory sucks, because it does. Either or.
[Re: the Rat Cook:] “It was not for murder that the gods cursed him,” Old Nan said, “nor for serving the Andal king his son in a pie. A man has a right to vengeance. But he slew a guest beneath his roof, and that the gods cannot forgive.”
Let’s hope so. WALDER. You giant poop splash.
That said, wow, the gods are death on violating guest rights, but perfectly fine with cannibalism and regicide? What kind of moral code is that?
*shrug* Probably not any kind of moral code at all, to think on it. Gods not modeled on the Judeo-Christian brand tend to be pretty capricious that way. Still, that’s really random, god people. I Disapprove.
(There, that’ll teach ‘em!)
I really wonder how much of the plethora of horror stories Bran heard about the Nightfort are just the Westeros version of FOAF stories, or actually really happened. Given the world we’re dealing with, I would unfortunately have to bet on the latter. In which case: damn. The brotherhood back in the day was Fucked. Up, y’all.
The Night King story was especially interesting. Is it actually saying that this Stark ancestor had an affair with an Other? Because the idea of how that could even happen is about making my head explode. Because, okay, sorry, but I have two words for you: icy vagina. EEEEK.
Yes, I am aware I’m a horrible person, but seriously, that is literally the first thing I thought about when I read that bit! Because, come on!
(Maybe they can strategically warm up… parts? Okay, I am NOT THINKING about this anymore, shut up, brain.)
Maybe we’ll never hear about this Night King dude again, but I have a feeling the story has more significance than the others Bran thinks about in this chapter. If only in that it implies that the Others are capable of a lot more cognizance, not to mention deviousness, than I have previously been assuming. Unless I’m totally off base and the woman who seduced the Night King wasn’t an Other at all, of course, which is perfectly possible. Maybe she and Coldhands are the same thing, since they both seem to be rocking that whole “surprisingly articulate animated corpse” vibe. Which means that maybe the woman was a green man. Woman. Whatever. Unless that theory’s wrong too, of course.
*throws up hands* Whatever, I quit.
Anyway, I certainly hope, for Gilly’s sake, that Bran’s belief that all these malevolent ghosts are still hanging out in the castle is wrong. And a passing observation here of how quietly badass Gilly is, agreeing to wait alone in this giant creepy castle by herself without a fuss.
Also, in the excitement of Sam’s arrival, I nearly forgot that Bran warged Hodor again, this time on purpose (I don’t think it was on purpose before). And… yeah, Bran, that’s getting way disturbing. You probably need to quit that. That is going nowhere good, ethically. Yikes.
Also also, I am sort of terribly amused that getting through the Wall is just that easy, as long as you have the right connections.
And last and randomly least:
[Meera:] “I even saw an eagle circling. I think he saw me too. I waved at him.”
Whoa, did Meera wave at the warg eagle? I can’t decide if that hilarious or very worrying.
In conclusion, SAM YAY. I wish a wonderful Fourth of July for those of you so culturally inclined, and a wonderful random summer week for everyone else. See you July 11th!