Chapter 24 — Bran
Back to Bran, and back to Winterfell, I hope. It feels like it’s been a year since we were last there. I was looking forward to this because both Tyrion and Catelyn are on their way to Winterfell, and I expect some sort of confrontation when they meet, considering she believes he tried to have Bran assassinated.
Starting up, it looks like Bran is feeling pretty down, sitting in his bedroom and watching his younger brother Rickon play in a yard with the direwolves, Grey Wind, Shaggydog (!) and Summer.
Bran’s Summer came last . . . he was the smartest of the litter. He could hear his brother’s breathless laughter as Rickon dashed across the hard-packed earth on little baby legs.
But also sad, because Bran has officially lost the use of his legs and can’t join in on the fun. He wants to cry, but he represses the urge, since he’s eight years old now — “a man grown, too old to cry,” apparently.
Old Nan is on babysitting detail, keeping Bran company with her senility and her stories, but he’s heard them all by before and becoming understandably irritated with her. It doesn’t help that she can’t even take an insult:
“I hate your stupid stories.”
The old woman smiled at him toothlessly. “My stories? No, my little lord, not mine. The stories are, before me and after me, before you too.”
This sort of pseudo-philosophical nonsense gets on Bran’s nerves fast, but I love this stuff, so I’m taking a shine to Old Nan.
We get a bit of backstory on her, revealing that she’s so old that she often gets Bran confused with other Brans she once knew, like Eddard’s brother and uncle, and both are long dead. That’s, uh, yeah, pretty old.
“I don’t care whose stories they are,” Bran told her, “I hate them.”
. . . “I know a story about a boy who hated stories,” Old Nan said.
Still sassy, though.
Bran continues to mope for a while, but it’s useful moping and I crave it, since it describes the current situation beyond what Bran understands. Robb, the eldest Stark child, has taken command in his mother and father’s absence and is trying his hardest to behave like a proper lord, doing accounting and stuff.
I take it this means neither Catelyn nor Tyrion have reached Winterfell yet, then. Just checking.
Old Nan tries to tell Bran another story, but he complains that he only likes “the scary ones,” and then things get serious.
“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear?”
. . . “Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a night that lasted a generation, and kings shivered and died in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels. Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.”
. . . “So, child. This is the sort of story you like?”
Damn. Is it scary story time? I’m on board for that.
I’m so tempted to just copy-paste swaths of Nan’s story, since the writing on display is absolutely wonderful, but there’s a fair bit left in this chapter and I don’t want to bloat this with quotes. Quote bloat. Sounds like some kind of blogger’s disease.
Paraphrasing, Old Nan’s story concerns the Others, the freaky ghoul dudes from way back in the prologue who
live unlive beyond the Wall. They basically terrorized the living in an eternal winter, a la Darkspawn, until a lone hero recruited a band of heroes (and a dog) to seek out “the children of the forest,” while pursued by the Others, who rode on “packs of pale white spiders as big as hounds.”
(A big NOPE from me on that last point, by the way.)
What I adore about this — the telling of a story within a story, specifically — is how it develops the lore in a mysterious way. Old Nan phrases this tale like it’s a legend, a fairy tale, but as a reader I already know the Others are very real. So how much of Nan’s tale is real? How much is story and how much is history?
Anyway, Bran gets a fright when the bedroom door abruptly opens (that always seems to happen whenever someone’s telling a spooky story), but it’s only Maester Luwin and Hodor the stableboy.
“Hodor!” the stableboy announced, as was his custom, smiling hugely at them all.
Or as I prefer to call him, Hodor the Pokemon boy.
“We have visitors,” [said Maester Luwin], “and your presence is required, Bran.”
That’s kind of messed up. He’s only eight, and he literally can’t leave his bed without help — I don’t think it’s strictly necessary that he attend. He complains too, pointing out that Nan was in the middle of her story.
“Stories wait, my little lord, and when you come back to them, why, there they are,” Old Nan said.
Sassy as ever.
“Who is [the visitor?]” Bran asked Maester Luwin.
“Tyrion Lannister, and some men of the Night’s Watch, with word from your brother Jon.”
!!! YES GIMME GIMME
As, uh, anxious as I am to just get to Tyrion I don’t want to pass up this next paragraph, where Hodor casually picks up Bran to carry him down to the attendance hall.
“Hodor,” he said again. Theon Greyjoy had once commented that Hodor did not know much, but no one could doubt that he knew his name. Old Nan had cackled like a hen when Bran told her that, and confessed that Hodor’s real name was Walder. No one knew where “Hodor” had come from, she said, but when he started saying it, they started calling him by it. It was the only word he had.
That’s . . . actually really sad. Wow. I need a doughnut.
So, Hodor carries Bran down into the hall where tensions are running high, man. Like, so high they’re touching the ceiling.
Tyrion is here with some peeps from the Night’s Watch and Robb is treating him pretty damn badly, sticking a sword in his face and acting pompous, but then Tyrion sees Bran and has this to say:
“So it is true, the boy lives. I could scarce believe it. You Starks are hard to kill.”
No one bats an eye at this. Maybe Tyrion was just making a snappy remark here, but considering it’s been implied he’s responsible for the assassin that tried to off Bran, well . . . that line there looks pretty suspicious to me. More than suspicious — it looks like a straight acknowledgement that he’s the one.
Of course, if Tyrion did send an assassin, why does he proceed to treat Bran so nicely? He reveals that he’s come to bring Bran a gift, specifically a saddle designed to accommodate his now-useless legs.
[Tyrion] drew a rolled paper from his belt. “Give this to your saddler.”
Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarf’s hand . . . “Yes, this ought to work. I should have thought of this myself.”
“It came easier to me, Maester. It is not terribly unlike my own saddles.”
Bran is touched and starts crying, while Robb is utterly unprepared for help from a Lannister and assumes the saddle is some kind of trap.
Things get positively deadly in an instant, when the direwolves suddenly enter the hall and surround Tyrion, ruffled by his scent. Ohh boy — if the dogs are suspicious of him, that’s a surefire sign that he’s the guy who sent the assassin, right? Unless this is all a hell of a lot of misdirection on G.R.R.M’s part. I’m not sure which is more likely yet.
Just as soon as the direwolves converge on Tyrion the Starks call them off, and he leaves soon after, although not before throwing around a few more witty lines.
The chapter finally wraps up on a different note than I expected. Later in the day, at suppertime, Bran is eating with the others when one of the Night’s Watchmen, Yoren, announces that Benjen Stark, Bran and Robb’s uncle, went missing some time ago beyond the Wall. I remember this information from an earlier chapter, when Jon Snow vowed to go searching for his uncle at some point.
Yoren and the other Night’s Watchmen discuss Benjen’s chances of survival beyond the Wall, which are few, and set fire to Bran’s imagination.
All Bran could think of was Old Nan’s story of the Others and the last hero, hounded through the white woods by dead men and spiders big as hounds. He was afraid for a moment, until he remembered how that story ended. “The children will help him,” he blurted, “the children of the forest!”
Like I said before, I love this sort of story-within-a-story informing the main story development. If Old Nan’s story is true (or half true), then is it possible Uncle Benjen is off getting chased by spiders and looking for elf people or what-have-you? For now, obviously, this is just speculation on the part of the characters, but if it turns out to be true, then this might imply some notions of fate and cyclic destiny.
A hero went beyond the Wall thousands of years ago to find “the children of the forest” and now events are repeating? Maybe? I’ll be interested to see how this particular sub-plot develops — and there are a lot of them by now, aren’t there?
I should keep a tally or something.
Summary Time: Bran Stark wallows in his tower, longing for his family and his freedom, and listens to a scary (and quite possibly portentous) story told by Old Nan. Hodor the Pokemon boy walks around being hilarious and kinda sad and strangely comforting, and seems to operate as Bran’s primary means of transportation. Until Tyrion Lannister arrives, anyway, and gifts Bran with the blueprints to a saddle that will let him ride a horse. Later, when Bran overhears that his Uncle Benjen has gone beyond the Wall and is most likely dead, he recalls Old Nan’s legend and suggests that Benjen may yet find a way to escape.
It might not seem like much, but this is one of my favorite chapters so far. It has a little of everything I like — stories-within-stories, in-character speculation, evocative writing and imagery, vivid characters like Old Nan and Tyrion, and a POV character who changes subtly over the course of the chapter.
Bran’s only a child, so he can’t really have an arc, exactly, but he does grow out of his foul mood by the end and he acquires a sense of hope, thanks in part to Tyrion.
Who I’m still not sure how to categorize. Right now here’s what I’m calling: he did sic an assassin on Bran, possibly a purely reactionary choice because he felt that Bran’s life could threaten the safety of his brother Jaime, who crippled Bran in the first place. I seem to recall reading much earlier that Ser Jaime was the one person Tyrion felt indebted to.
In any event, I also
hope think Tyrion now regrets his actions, perhaps because he’s gotten to know Jon Snow since then.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong and Tyrion’s just a freaking robot with inscrutable motivations.
Thanks for reading. It looks like I’ll be taking another hiatus (yes, already), so I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to update, but I’ll try to make it soon.
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