Fourteen chapters (!) mention Old Nan’s stories, most of them more than once. I was originally going to do a story accuracy scoreboard, but the idea seems to overwhelming now. I was amazed at the degree to which all the Winterfell-based characters* incessantly return to the phrase “Old Nan’s stories” to signify both the respected wisdom of the past, and the supposed silliness of things everyone supposedly knows aren’t true. That’s one conflicted relationship with history, legend, and magic there.
*Even Catelyn, who was exposed to Old Nan only after she was old enough to know better! If anything, she should be remembering “Old Mabel of Riverrun”‘s stories or the like.
Near the end of a book, and immediately after one of its two major climaxes, is a heck of a place to put a giant infodump about distant past history and legend. Nonetheless, it works all right here.
- Old Nan says: there was once a blind knight, Symeon Star-Eyes. Also, she is apparently a pretty effective teacher of Stark family history.
- …but Luwin protests her story of the children of the forest: “The man who trusts in spells is dueling with a glass sword.” Which is, of course, exactly the kind of sword you need against the others.
- “Hodor is a man, not a mule to be beaten.” Or, you know, possessed. Even if it makes you like “a knight together.”
- Luwin: “[Eddard’s death] will not be for many years, gods be good.” Yikes.
- The First Men’s intimidation of the children with horses reminds me of the Conquistadors in Latin America.
Wow, I’d actually forgotten that Ned’s last chapter was Ned’s last chapter. The single paragraph after Joffrey’s pronouncement does an incredible job of portraying the shocked surprise of the Lannisters and cabinet (especially Varys, who’s either truly surprised or acting like it to an admirable degree) while remaining plausibly within Arya’s POV.
- Is “the Others take your [object of derision]” a common oath in the South?
- I like that Arya doesn’t instantly become a perfectly street-smart hustler: her things are stolen and her accent or manner of speech gives her away to the other urchins.
- Old Nan told boys’ adventure stories.
- That is one cold trick the Lannisters pull with the fake Stark soldiers at the docks.
- Nice image of the galloping Redwyne twins.
- Another morbidly obese character: the High Septon.
Speaking of stuff I have to get through to get to the good stuff … it’s a Bran chapter. Still, I found a lot to remark on here.
- Old Nan says: the Karstarks have Stark blood in them. Also, Maester Lewin dismissively equates Osha’s warning about the Others to an Old Nan story.
- The Karstarks are described as barbarians with “hair worn loose past the shoulders.” Once again, except for a couple of baldies, pretty much every man whose hair length has been described so far has been identified as having long hair, including such civilized types as Jaime, Tommen, Renly, Loras, et al., as well as Ned — so how does having long hair suddenly make one a barbarian? (Especially when it somehow also makes one a woman?)
- Here Bran approaches the Old Gods as some modern American Christians do Yahweh, i.e. with prayers phrased as a list of requests. The Old Gods religion has in general struck me as more like animism: the spirits are out there in nature, you may or may not be able to appease them, but they are definitely not your personable, human-like sugar daddy. Does Bran’s behavior reflect the influence of the Faith on the Stark children, as transmitted by Catelyn?
- In any case, Bran is also becoming more comfortable being watched by the weirwood.
- What would have happened if Robb had given the command to Theon, as he was apparently advised? I don’t see Theon turning cloak under those circumstances–he would probably have never had the chance to visit the Iron Islands, and this show of faith on Robb’s part would have inspired him to be his best self. Then again, Theon, being no great strategist, might well have lost the war, in which case the Lannisters would have executed Robb (though not burned Winterfell; that would be a waste of good capital).
- Robb seems to have taken some anger management lessons, and still shows his vulnerable side only to Bran.
- Who will go south and return? (Sansa? Arya?)
- TMI about your sex life, Osha, not to mention that of your giant friends.
- Smiling is a bad thing, judging by the constant contemptuous descriptions of Theon doing so.
- You know you’re living in a culture of violence when an eight-year-old can be described as “too craven to take his own life.”
- “‘Hodor,’ Bran agreed, wondering what it meant.” Will we ever find out?
Mormont: “The things we love destroy us every time.” Is this true? Just sticking to the major POV characters:
- Ned is destroyed by his love of (his idealized image of) Robert, and his resulting blindness to crucial aspects of his situation. (His love of honor figures in also, but this reread has shown Robert to be much more important than I previously realized.)
- Catelyn is destroyed by her love of her family(or of her concept of herself as perfect family woman), and of drama (e.g., foolishly insisting on traveling to King’s Landing herself; kidnapping Tyrion and then ignoring all logical arguments as to his innocence).
- Jon is destroyed by his love of being right (see his own comment about himself below). Ultimately this stems from his love of his father and yearning for a level of security and recognition not afforded by his social status.
- Daenerys was, for quite a while, on the path to being destroyed by her love of her people, or more cynically, of her image of herself as mother savior and emancipator. (Daario’s just a blip on the radar screen.)
- Theon is destroyed by his yearning for validation, stemming from his frustrated love of the Starks and what they stand for.
- Jaime did rather poorly living a life defined by his love of his sister.
- If Brienne has been destroyed, it’s by her love of honor and, possibly, Jaime.
On the other hand:
- Arya loves her family, her freedom, and the satisfaction of attaining mastery, and has mostly benefited by at least the latter things. And she’s about as far from destroyed as any major POV character at this point.
- Sansa loves her illusions, and is also far from destroyed yet.
- Tyrion loves his own intellect and the idea of being in love with a woman. Things haven’t gone well for him, but when it comes down to it, most of his misfortunes have been visited on him by others in spite of his efforts to avoid them. In particular, the bane of his existence is his father, who he mostly has the sense to hate.
- Bran suffered significant harm due to his love of climbing, but once again, I think the blame for that (as well as for his increasingly creepy situation) largely falls on others, including possibly the gods/fate.
- Davos seems to love his family and to have a generally strong but realistically calibrated moral compass, which one could describe as a love of goodness. He’s lost a lot, but once again, largely due to the actions of others, and he has remained more stolidly himself (i.e., undestroyed) than any other major adult character.
- Sam loves knowledge, comfort, and his brothers (particularly Jon), and is doing quite well so far.
- Cersei loves herself (her brother/husband and children, I think, are loved only as extensions thereof). I don’t think I’d call her destroyed as all her sufferings don’t seem to have made much of a psychological dent.
Elsewhere in this chapter.
- I think this is the point where Jon chapters, never my favorites, become the boring stuff I have to get through to reach the good stuff (like, yes, Sansa chapters). I’m just not that into zombies, male bonding, or teen angst.
- “Jon Snow was nothing if not stubborn.” Word.
- Jon was “a babe in arms” when the current summer began. So Robert’s war took place in winter?
- Old Nan says: in the past, the Others invaded the south and destroyed human cities and even kingdoms.
- Jon is bright enough to doubt that Joffrey would allow Eddard to live (Joffrey’s handlers apparently weren’t).
- “If Lord Eddard was killed, [Catelyn] would be as much to blame as the queen.” Word again.
- Mormont’s raven initially screams “corn,” but is later able to manage the much more situation-appropriate “burn.” If the raven is a front for the three-eyed crow, this suggests a limited degree of control of its faculties (insufficient, for example, to make it say “There’s a zombie in the solar!”)
Syrio is dead. His really being Jaqen, etc. would greatly cheapen this gorgeous scene.
Elsewhere in this chapter:
- The coincidence of Arya running across Hullen just as he dies is a bit much.
- “This time the [dragon skulls] did not frighten her. They seemed almost old friends.” Foreshadowing?
- Old Nan says: there are spiders and “rats as big as dogs” in the Winterfell crypt.
- Great line: “she’d killed him, and if he jumped out at her she’d kill him again.”