Monday, March 17, 2014

[Re-read] Bran III: Summer at Last

[This post contains spoilers for A Dance with Dragons. Be forewarned!]

I watched Jack the Giant Slayer yesterday; fantasy films are few and far between, but I found some time last night to give it a go. I wasn't impressed by anything, really; some of the wide shots perhaps. I did like the care-free fairy tale presentation and I am sure kids will gobble it up, but for an old grognard like myself there has to be some potent characterization, obviously. Anyway, the one thing I did enjoy more than anything was John Ottman's score. It has been a while since I've heard a decent score that I can use for roleplaying games, but this one had it all: soaring epic, suitably dark moments, and heart-lifting pieces (though the characters in my game, like the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, seldom get those scenes). So I was more listening to the movie than watching it, picking it out pieces of music and re-imagining them for roleplaying scenes. It also reminded me that I haven't really listened to Game of Thrones: Season Three's soundtrack yet but I have a feeling it's possibly the best out of the three. And in two weeks' time, we'll have a fourth. So now, as I delve into chapter forty-one of A Storm of Swords, Bran III, I'm listening to John Ottman's Jack the Giant Slayer score and enjoying Martin's prose. With a cup of coffee and the morning sun shining in through the window. I like these geeky moments. Another such moment occurred when I changed my re-read banner, I like to mix it up, what can I say? "Let's see what Bran Stark's up to", for example. At the Tower of the Hand (the fan website, not the one in King's Landing), which keep a rather detailed overview of all chapters in all books, this chapter is ranked 7.59 overall, which I suppose is quite good, but not fantastic either. However, the previous chapter, which I rather like, is ranked even lower.

Martin launches straight into a description of the locale that will provide the setting for this chapter. Through Bran's eyes, we see a tower upon an island. The introductory description is one of serenity, and I love it not just for its pastoral atmosphere, but also because it links Bran Stark's character to that which has to do with the earth: "When the wind blew, ripples moved across the surface of the lake, chasing one another like boys at play. Oak trees grew thick along the lakeshore, a dense stand of them with a litter of fallen acorns on the ground beneath." Now, I don't know how thoroughly Martin works on his allusions in his prose, but to me these two sentences hold a few deeper meanings (at least, that's how I chose to read it). First, I like how Bran thinks of the ripples in the waters at "boys at play" - Martin reminding us that Bran is a young boy, and that he yearns to be a normal boy who can play with other boys, but he can't because he's broken - it gives the sentence a depth of melancholy, lovely as that also fits the autumnal mood. Second, we have oak trees growing thick, which is closely related to where Bran ends up in A Dance with Dragons, literally speaking, and third there are the "fallen acorns" which I feel symbolize Bran in the way they can sum him up from his fall from the tower in Winterfell to becoming part of nature (kind of) below the ground. Yes. I might read too much into these sentences. But Martin writes it in such a manner that he invites you to go deeper. There is meaning where you want it to be, and you can never be sure whether Martin intended these lines to so closely match Bran's arc, but there they are. 

Next, we're told there's a village here as well. I didn't remember there was a village here as well, I only
remember the tower. But this may be because of a fantastic piece of art from the 2009 calendar which I have goggled at many a time. Because, you know, it doesn't show a village, just the tower in the island. I'll put it up right next to this paragraph when I'm done writing for your pleasure. It's one of my favorite pieces of art based on the series, I don't know why, really. No, nothing phallic. Colors maybe, Bran's loneliness symbolized by the lonely tower, I don't know. Mood, atmosphere, autumn. I'm like the autumn. Such a beautiful painting and true to the scene in the book, from the rippling waters to the reflection of the tower in said waters. And, of course, Hodor carrying Bran across, the Reeds scouting ahead.

Bran has the urge to "slip inside" Summer's skin to chase deer, but Meera Reed waves the group on toward the shore. It's one of many moments where one could wonder if Bran is becoming more feral, or if he is simply having problems resisting the seduction of being able to move about freely. It is Rickon who's the wild one, so I am thinking Bran is more tempted because of the freedom it would give him, not because he's growing more wild like his younger brother. We're given a quick rundown of the geography in the lands they now visit; from here to the Wall, they will face nothing but fallow fields and rolling hills, high meadows and lowland bogs; they have left the mountains behind (though I never got the feeling they were traversing mountains - was this in between chapters perhaps?) Bran gives us more exposition on the land, calling it the New Gift, and it belongs to the Night's Watch. He launches into some ancient history as well, presenting to us for the first time Queen Alysanne and her dragon Silverwing, who visited the Wall and the Night's Watch, and gave the Watch even more land to control.

The village is abandoned; Martin continues to paint the scene with autumn, with wet brown leaves and rotting apples and cidery scents. Bran explains (again) that the villagers probably abandoned their homes for fear of wildlings, who come over the Wall "or through the mountains" (wot?) to raid and steal. Jojen Reed tells them a storm is coming, giving us the impression that he has the skill Weather Sense, probably with bonuses. They decide to seek shelter in the holdfast. Bran knows that there is a hidden causeway beneath the water, which he learned from Old Nan, and so they cross the lake. The causeway crossing is successful but scary (at least Hodor thinks so) but they soon enough find themselves before the holdfast's door. They open it, enter, Hodor not ducking low enough so Bran hits his head and find themselves in a strongroom, barely large enough for the four of them.  Old grates are reluctant to give way, but Bran manages to loosen one in the roof, and they hoist each other up in the tower, finding themselves "in a maze of small cells, dark and empty", but Meera goes exploring and finds the way for them. They climb higher, until they come to the fifth and highest floor, in a big round chamber. They check out the roof itself as well, standing in the wind looking out over the world. Jojen tells us that in the Neck, there are trees twice as tall as this tower - that's ten-story trees! Bran is disappointed that they can't see the Wall from there, and he is tired and cold. And he wonders how they are going to get past the Wall - for which Jojen has the answer (as usual): "There are abandoned castles along the Wall, I've heard. Fortresses built by the Night's Watch but now left empty. One of them may give us our way through." Is he just guessing, or does he know more? One can wonder. Old Nan called these keeps for 'ghost castles', and we are given a paragraph of exposition on them, and learn that at the feast at Winterfell way back in A Game of Thrones, Bran had recited the nineteen names of the fortresses to his uncle Benjen. What I'm taking from this is that Martin consciously added a memory of Benjen here to strengthen the link between uncle and nephew - because I happen to believe that Bran and Benjen meet up later in the story. Wink wink nudge. Benjen also told Bran that gates were sealed with ice and stone when a castle was abandoned, to which Meera replies that then they will have to open one. Also, Bran says about Benjen, "He might know where the Three-Eyed Crow lives." Aha!
Anyway, they begin to argue about whether going through Castle Black or not; Jojen says it is not safe, Bran wants to go there. It's really curious how often Benjen crops up now in this part of the chapter. Bran thinks of how he went missing. And then their discussion is interrupted when Jojen spies a rider.

Bran squints, and realizes it is a man on a horse, also called a rider. This one I love: "Hodor?" Hodor had put a hand over his eyes as well, only he was looking the wrong way. "Hodor?" Such a sweet little addition to the text. Meera realizes the rider is making for the village, so they decide to go inside to hide themselves from view. Bran reminds us and the Reeds that Summer is still gallivanting about with the deer near the village, but Meera assures him the wolf will be fine. Also, that suits the story better of course. And hey, look, it begins to rain as they go inside. There is a lot of rain in these books, especially Starks get more than their fair share of wet drops on their heads, when it isn't melting snowflakes or howling winds. Poor Starks. Always in the worst weather. But that's what you get when you constantly think winter is coming. Eventually it will come. Or so a man can hope *grumble*

Meera creeps out on her belly onto a north-facing balcony from the chamber on the fifth floor to spy on the
rider. She watches the rider prepare a fire in the ruins of the inn they visited before crossing the lake. Bran wishes they could light up a fire themselves but that would give them away. They eat cold duck and for some reason we need to know exactly how they split the animal between them: Bran and Meera eat the breast, Jojen a thigh and Hodor the wing and leg (did it have only one wing, one leg, and one thigh?). They share a story (about Brandon the Shipwright who sailed off into the Sunset Sea), the rain keeps falling, and darkness falls. The storm builds, and lightning begins to flash and thunder begins to crack, and Hodor gets scared and begins to shout (I suppose I don't have to tell you what he shouts). This, of course, is a problem because his shouting may attract the attention of the stranger in the ruins of the inn across the lake. In one flash of light, Meera notices that more men have arrived in the village, and the tension of the chapter is ramped right up because now we know something's uppety up. Axes, spears, but no mounts. A reader might surmise the stranger is Jon Snow, and the others are wildlings looking for him. It seems like quite an exciting moment for the four in the tower as Hodor keeps shouting louder and louder, and eventually Bran reaches for Hodor's mind, Hodor staggers and sits back to the floor all calmed down. Bran has gained a skill point in warging as he, unlike any other wargs Jojen knows, has been able to slip into the mind of a human being. Granted, a rather helpless human being (he's sparsely furnished so to speak), but still.

Bran can feel Summer being fearful, and opens his Third Eye, slipping into the direwolf; he finds himself in the rain, belly full of deer, cringing in a bush. He can sense men about, heards the clink of armor, sees men moving about.

And...oh! It's over already! That's weird. I swear I remembered this chapter going on for a while longer, but of course the scene will continue from Jon's point of view instead. And that's the next chapter. I like it when chapters are closely linked like this, which is a pretty rare occurence (is this the only time I wonder? No, there must be some of them in A Game of Thrones before characters are scattered across Westeros). But still, what a way to end the chapter. Martin builds up the tension brilliantly, and then... Summer smells the scent of fear and it's over. Ah, I can't complain, though, can I? The next chapter picks up right where this one ends. Unlike certain cliffhangers in later books where you have to wait years and years for the continuation. In conclusion, I like cliffhangers when I don't have to wait five years for a resolution, and I hate them with the passion of a waking dragon when I do have to wait. 


  1. "though the characters in my game, like the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, seldom get those scenes"

    Nooo, really?!


  2. Well, that Tylendel is still alive is down to pure luck!
    And that is for no fault of my own, I tell you! *cough*

  3. It was half the duck from the day before yesterday, so they could have eaten part of it yesterday