game of thrones

Playin’ With Ice and Fire: A Game of Thoughts | Bran Stark Chapter 17

She’s new, I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. Today we hit Chapter 17, a Bran Stark POV chapter.

You can also read my interview with George R. R. Martin if it pleases you

game of thrones

A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena –

Does anybody besides me make up soundtracks to go with books? I open with this seeming non sequitur because all I could hear when I was reading this chapter and thinking about it after the fact was that song from Crazy Heart with the chorus “it’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’…for a little while,” because Bran is falling, see, and he feels like he’s flying, right, eh, eh?

Yeah, I’m a dork like that. Whatever. Jeff Bridges sang the hell out of that song, and it was a mostly good movie even if was way too MADD-agenda-oriented, so I ain’t ashamed to admit that I have that soundtrack or that I have been listening to it incessantly for like 2 weeks now. (Apparently I am also not ashamed of the fact that it takes me two weeks to get around to writing down my thoughts on a chapter…I promise it doesn’t take me this long to think them! Just to figure out how to say them all pretty and shit.)

The marginal comment I made even before I started reading was “The constant changes make it easier to stop–not sure I could have resisted an Arya/Sansa chapter.”  To those of you who have commented on my self-control with stopping…it’s really not. It’s just when my brain has to re-set time/place/point of view I can’t read on auto-pilot and awake from my fugue 100 pages later.

You’ll be happy to know I had a dream about accidentally doing that with this book, though. (Yeah, I’m not getting obsessed.) Anyway. It was nice to see ole Bran wake up from his coma–I would crow about being right that he would have died right away if he was going to, but there just wasn’t much doubt about it. Would be like bragging about predicting the sun rising or something.

Anyway. I don’t really have a lot to say about this chapter, even after thinking about it for two weeks. This may come out somewhat disjointed stream-of-consciousness, but fuck it–that’s what the chapter was. Er, without the actual stylistic flourishes of SOC, that is.

I found it a hilarious “let’s pull back and show you a montage of what everyone is doing, right this very minute, just to make sure you don’t forget anything!” to have Bran see all of them in real-time in his dream landscape. I wondered:  is the storm he sees ahead of Catelyn and the ship metaphoric?

They can’t see it, after all. I assume the three shadows closing in on Ned/Arya/Sansa are Clegaine (the hound), Jaime (the golden one), and Ser Ilyn (the stone giant), since they seem the most likely to act directly against the Starks. I would like to make a snide comment about Robert being nothing but an empty shell (which he is) but I don’t think he is an active threat, and that’s what those shadows presumably represent–active threats, not those whose passivity allows others to act on threats. And finally I asked in my notes, “Dany and Viserys?” when he mentions dragons stirring beneath the sunrise (again with the metaphor, them being Targaryens and not, you know, actual enscaled fire-breathing wyverns).

The more interesting questions are: what did Bran see in the heart of winter that made him cry out in fear, that made the crow remark “Now you know why you must live”? And, was this Bran’s destiny all along?

First point first.

What does Bran see? I really can’t even hazard a guess here. In a way it seems so prosaic and expected to the reader if all he saw were the Urskexis motherfuckers who live up past that Wall and like to suck souls and reanimate corpses, because we the readers have already met those cats and while it may be shit-your-pants-worthy to little 8-year-old Bran Stark, and maybe even to his Uncle Benji, veteran of The Wall, it’s not to us.

So, while that seems the most likely, it would also be rather unsatisfying. But I can’t really imagine what else it might be, just that I think it almost has to be something else from a narrative point of view, or maybe it’s just a clever trick to make us think it has to be something else, but really that seems cheap, I mean why have the mystery if the reveal is that there is no mystery, I mean this isn’t fucking Shutter Island here…IS IT? It better not be, because if it is I want my fucking money back.

But if it is, indeed, like Shutter Island in clichés, it is also alike in fabulous imagery. My favorite visual from this chapter, and the first in a while that I’ve felt a need to really call out ,was the bit right after he looks at winter.

There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points.

That’s just awesome. I especially love the, oh, the sense of threat it gives to being one of these dreamers. The fact that if you hit the ground, you die. That it has happened to so many others before him makes Bran’s joining the ranks of these dreamers seem dangerous, a harder destiny than it might otherwise have been–he doesn’t just have to fear knowledge, and misinterpreting those damnably metaphorical visions, but actual physical and/or psychological (as in, of the psyche, or soul) death if he can’t pull back in time.

Second point second. Was this Bran’s destiny all along–or did it become his new life path when his old one pushed him into the opportunity? Basically what I mean by this is, did all of Bran’s previous talking to the crows and hanging out with them sort of portend that he was always going to end up in this dreaming-place with a crow, one way or another, that he was always meant to be at the center of this conflict with the heart of winter, whatever it turns out to be, and getting pushed out of the tower was merely one path of many that would have led him there?

Or is it the sort of path that only opens to someone under special circumstances, rare circumstances (such as a near-death-experience, perhaps even at just the right time in life) that overtook him by coincidence? If I had to put money down I’d bet the former, for the record. The bit with the tree in their godwood looking back “knowingly” at him supports that, as if it had been expecting him to open that third eye for years. I’ve tried to think, though, what the implications are both ways, if it substantively affects the situation or changes things, and I haven’t been able to come up with too many angles that it would, in the end, make a difference about.

About the only one is like, some metaphysical connection between the Starks and the North, that when winter comes they always have their own champion or something. Either way–his destiny or just his new path–Bran’s getting that third eye, the dreamer’s eye, actually makes his fall from the tower even more of a life-changing event than just getting close enough to see the whites of Death’s eyes would be for anyone.

With all this talk of Bran and possible destiny and his relation to whatever is there in the winter north of The Wall that is obviously coming for him, I found it either poignant or ridiculously too obvious that Bran named his direwolf Summer…because Summer’s the opposite of Winter, and Bran’s obviously going to be fighting against winter now and his pet is and always will be his biggest champion. Hm. But I will cut the kid a break and call it as sweet, since at least he didn’t name him, like, Knight to Sansa’s unimaginative Lady (tear!).

That’s about all I’ve got on this one. Like I said, didn’t have too many thoughts. But I’m glad Bran’s awake again. I look forward to seeing just how hard his world just got rocked by that crow-peck.

– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her.  Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!

–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–

Jay –

The world and what’s within is wondrous to Bran and I can’t help but find the experience of his  dream sequence here and the panoramic perspective he offered us while climbing in his second chapter very similar as a testament to that. Bran’s perspective of reality doesn’t differ much from his dreams and there’s something about that seems admirable, yet  Bran isn’t a POV that I look forward to.

Mostly he exists  as a character that I put up with to get the outlook and reaction of an  innocent child’s on those around him more than really giving much a damn about him. He is – I thinkeasily the least enjoyable of the Stark brood to read about and I really wrestled with this chapter and was going to just post Elena’s and save my thoughts in the comments section on this one and ended up writing/deleting my portion a couple times as I was finalizing posting.

Going into this reread, post-fall  Bran is by far my least favorite POV in A Game of Thrones. This chapter, to me, is only interesting as a discussion point in seeing Elena’s – a new reader’s – reaction to  Martinian prophecy implementation and really left me cold this time around, especially coming off of two chapters that I really felt had major tangible aspects that interest me but also have this meta yet core aspect to them:  Sansa’s Song, and Ned’s challenge to Robert, that went unanswered by the consummate warrior. Bran is an abruption, a fantasy aborted, but still somehow alive, reborn and now free, and for me feels perhaps at time seems too purposeful, too mechanical, as an avenue to insert the fantastic in. It does have purpose though, even if only ones I made up. Bran is not  (just) a dreamer. He is a believer.

Martin uses traditional dreamscape  as a sort of leak or intermediary between reality and the fantastic and what’s interesting here is that there is no questioning of veracity, we are instead only left to puzzle, when applicable, the message itself and not the messenger or means of. Bran first views the immediate harsh realities we all know as fact which gives him some sort of credibility regarding the images – both that we see now and would later see –  but then he goes beyond.

Bran is capable of and believes enough, dreams enough, to see Dragons in the East and the Heart of Winter in the North. Elena brings up dragons and the possible meaning of the Targaryen siblings, but it doesn’t really matter, they could be dragons because it is Bran looking.

The two above, the fantasies, are the last two mentioned, he sees in Martin’s words “beyond the curtain”, beyond the veil of the reality that others have accepted and think they live safely within. The truth to the visions we took part in give a credibility to those that we have not or will not experience first hand.  I’m not sure if it’s Bran’s age and mindset that allows for this because honestly I have to go to our readers for their knowledge on the subject of his later “powers” because even through several rereads I always tuned much of Bran out.

I don’t even know why, here I am a child of Fantasy reading about the unlikely prodigal son of Fantasy, something that should be an anchor of familiarity to previous books I enjoy, but for some reason Bran and Uncat stand out as two elements that I outright (thus far) don’t enjoy in this series, much less devour like I do most of the other POVS and central characters.

Giving the reader this after-the-fact-prophecy first is in some regard safe but it is so like a warning shot across the bow.  What Martin does is put prophecy itself  – or at least Bran’s Sauron-like gaze – on steady ground, it is the people we must question. We have seen or think we have seen charlatans and some expect more, but we know off-gatewall Bran is not one, and though he perhaps fails to understand what he witnesses, his visions are quite vivid, quite clear.

Martin empowers readers, to throw us out windows later. It is people we must question, their interpretations and clarity, as can be seen by the possible mistakes of even the scholarly, like a Rhaegar or Maester Aemon.  Both are also believers.  There’s something to the idea of “belief” that this chapter has shown me a door to but it’s not a door I quite knew the words to open, without risking a longer delay. I’m thinking on it for the next Bran chapter or whenever I get thrown down that hall again.

Our attraction to our favorite characters makes us cling to just about any instance refers to them and extends even beyond the characters we don’t see a lot of (a couple I’d assume are like this are Rhaegar or Ser Arthur Dayne, or for one that’s alive I think Bronn qualifies now). Yes, this means I’m going back to my Kingslayer man-crush. It’s real weird how we look for things in the characters we dig and just don’t care about rightfully pitiable warg pup-cripples, right?

A face swam up at him out of the grey mist, shining with light, golden. “The things I do for love,” it said.

As noted above, Bran’s POV is that of an innocent child. This is one of the few interesting aspects of the character for me, more because I find it as an intriguing device to see an author demonstrate. What I like here is that  Jaime’s words while he’s doing this horrific act probably aren’t truly flippant, yet you’d think they are nothing but as a new reader.

How we take his words at first could possibly leads us down the wrong path, but the guy was actually just saying a statement fact about something that really has consumed and fucked up his life (though he doesn’t even know the extent of). Jaime is honest and it kind of fits the MO of his other actions that he’s more famous for.

When we consider this act and what I think was the true emotion behind it was, it does set us up nicely to believe Jaime (or believe that he believes himself) when he reveals his POV of other acts. Also, being a Dune fan, I always like to think Jaime set Bran upon the “golden” path (because you know,the  Fall has to come before Winter).

He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.

Has everyone kind of gone and accepted Gregor on the last one? If I had to choose I think I’d go with Robert, but ultimately I’d have to admit that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen arguments for several others and none of them jive with me, but equally none would surprise me either.

Back to Bran,  I always go back to chapter 1. Ned prepared this kid and made him look. Elena is right regarding the image of those vanquished by the Others,  but my problem is that I think we should come out of this chapter thinking Bran is potentially a hardcore player, maybe even on a latent-Bloodraven (sweet!) level, yet I have yet to come away from this chapter on any reread with the thought that I’m dealing with somebody of gravity and it always puzzles me because this chapter is an emphatic and early statement that Bran can do crazy shit.  He enters the Dreaming, meets his version of Matthew Cable, and we should be excited, but I think Bran (admirably?) lacks the ability to disarm. Instead he still comes off as the future, boring, Hodor Headmaster.

Magic is alive. It just needed to wake up. For me though? I’m an unreluctant  diehard fan of the fantastic that for some reason prefers and even fights for the waking moments of this series, and  this particular reread is one that I hope gets me to appreciate the wonder, to go back and enjoy the brand I love. I mentioned above what the POV Bran offer, that of a child’s, but we have to take that thought to the next level to best appreciate Bran, which equally may be why I find him so tedious.  A Song of Ice and Fire has been called “the Fantasy series for people who don’t like Fantasy.” Martin enables the fantastic beyond the prologue that haters closet lovers could feel comfortable in filing away as horror and did so via a reborn, wide-eyed, but ultimately accepting child. Martin wrote them into the book including those who failed to accept the rabbit hole: He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid.

I’m kind of slanting myself to try to view Bran differently this time. Damn Bran the builder. There is hope here, but more then from one direction, one of looming threat, shit in this chapter should scare you. Hail Bran the Badass. Maybe.


As a total aside, the most entertaining aspect of this chapter for me was that I had just finished reading this very sweet article about crows  while I was writing this which freaked me the hell out. Go read that and forget I mailed this one in.

This feature continues over at Bookspotcentral where Rachel Parker replaces me and joins Elena.


  1. @Elena
    Well, there really isn’t much to know here, but there’s plenty to speculate on. The description of Arya “holding her secrets hard in her heart” always makes me sit up. Been there myself, internalizing things when speaking would do absolutely no good, and might do more harm. it always makes me feel as if an acid drill lives in my gut, and I wonder if Arya feels the same way. That’s so much for her to deal with! To answer your speculation, I DO think this was Bran’s destiny and I think he’s unusually suited to it given his levels of patience. Still, it also makes me sad that he had to lose his legs for it to happen.

    Dang, there’s really nothing else to say, except “Yay, Bran!” and “Behold, Summer!” lol!

    @Jay SPOILERS!!
    Man crushes aside, I STILL wonder about the three images and ask myself if my assumptions are wrong. Someone made the point somewhere that Bran was only seeing the people who were with the party, and so the assertion that it’s Ilyn is reasonable…but the claim on Gregor Clegane is also reasonable because of the black blood and no head reference. Still, he wasn’t there except in The Hound’s messed up psyche. Hmm…your belief that it’s Robert is intriguing, but I can’t see where the symbology fits. If it is him, then being dead means his part in that vision came to pass already, and I missed it.

    But even more important, what were the ash hound and golden figure doing? What was THEIR symologiocal significance, and do they really represent Sandor Clegane and Jaime Lannister? I admit that part seems pretty cut and dried, but I hate to assume anything with Martin!

    Do you have any idea what the vision, that part of it, anyway, even pertained to? Has anyone speculated beyond who it might be?

  2. Raquel,

    If there are other thoughts I probably would have skipped them because if there were discussions/threads etc that I skipped they’d probably be ones dealing with Bran (for reasons I stated above). It should be noted that my ‘general knowledge’ of current ASOIAF fan discussion probably stops at like 2007, so there may be many aspects that I tackle as if they are still in question that may have already gained some measure of consensus. I don’t really have the time to keep up.

    Your thought is interesting because I never really considered the visions, not because I don’t find them interesting, but moreso because they never seemed to matter after the fact. I can’t think of any circumstance that would make this chapter more valuable.

    This chapter I sense will be very commentor weighted because Elena is new and I really have a hard time caring about Bran from her on out. Maybe the struggle will be interesting and fruitful though!

  3. I actually always kind of enjoyed Bran’s chapters…don’t know why, and I never really figured I was in a minority…oh well…

    btw I mentioned the two of you in my podcast, just thought I’d let you know…but Elena can’t listen to it, cuz it’s very spoilery…sorry Elena…

    and speaking of spoilers:

    This chapter really reminds me of that Dany’s chapter where she gets those visions behind all those doors…just thought I’d mention it, since there’s not much to talk about here that hasn’t been talked about already…

  4. Elena: oh and I forgot to say, nice catch about him talking to crows before he fell…I never thought of that…

  5. I wouldn’t say you are in the minority as I wouldn’t have any data to say you were or weren’t. I actually suspect that Bran would at the very least be given some slack and be liked by most.

    I for one am glad we are past this chapter, I suspect we will be quicker because getting this project over with has vaulted to the top of my things to do list.

  6. Aww, but I love this sharing of thoughts! 🙂

    Still, I see what you mean. There’s a zillion things happening on G-Mash as it is, and the tv show will be here soon. might as well stuff this down the gullet!


    Plus, I want to eventually throw out R+L=J to Elena, and after AGOT I think it’s ok.

  7. @Elena,

    I totally do the soundtrack thing. I also find the books a little fatiguing, not because I’m bored, there’s just a lot to process. I’ve never been able to power thru, I have to take my time. I think that’s why I also get frustrated at the jumping around, I have been known to just flip to the next “character” chapter of whoever’s storyline I’m interested in… don’t tell. (mostly I just want to skip Sansa chapters hahaha)



    Yea.. I actually really like Bran. I think it’s because he’s a bit more elevated on a plot level, we the reader can use him as a breathing point, a place to update our inner maps and catch where we might be slipping up on detail recall. The child’s perspective helps. It’s like Arya’s, pretty black and white. A resting point for a reader attempting to keep up. Plus he can talk to animals. Yay! ( am poisoned by Narnia)

    But I’ve never really liked the Reeds. We could lose them. If it were just Bran and Hodor and Osha I would have been pretty stoked. Instead we’ve got these annoying kids being all “wise”. Esp Jojen. He is sooo lame.

  8. (Minor Spoilers)

    I actually enjoy Bran’s POV quite a bit, but I agree with you that his chapters are not the easiest to read. I don’t really think it has anything to do with the fantastical elements. It’s more the fact that Bran is so isolated from the rest of the story, holding down the fort in the north after everyone else is scattered to the seven winds. We’re reading along, caught up in all the various political machinations winding through all the plot threads, and then suddenly we’re back in Winterfell, in the only POV that is still innocent/wise enough to not care about any of the politics that seem to ensnare everyone else. It’s jarring to be wrenched out of that, but at the same time it can be refreshing to step away from the turmoil in the south and look at the bigger picture. And of course, in the very big picture, Bran is the character most focused on the one threat that really matters.

    Another area that sets him apart is that, whereas we see most characters reacting to situations and events and other characters beyond their control, Bran for the most part is the master of his own fate. His story is less about the character development and interaction that drives most of the POVs, and more about his personal struggles with both his disability and his ability. To that end, the other characters in his POV seem to focus all their attention on Bran himself, which makes them fairly one-dimensional. On the one hand, this may just be a child’s perspective on the people around him, but on the other hand, the Reeds do come all the way from the Neck for the sole purpose of following Bran around.

    As the POV most removed from the game of thrones, Bran stands as the quiet reminder that winter is coming, and everything else is just a distraction. Until winter does come though, Bran is pretty much just a hero in training. And that kind of story has certain inevitable steps that need to happen along the way, which can make it feel a little tedious at times. Overall I think Martin does a good job of moving it along, and given that it’s just one plot thread among many, I’m happy to take the Bran chapters as quick breathers in between the more exciting bits. I think what makes him hard to read is that, for a great many readers, the depth of the political intrigue is what sets aSoIaF apart from most fantasy, and so to be reminded that there is this bigger, more traditional fantasy threat looming over everything that renders the politics irrelevant is a little disappointing. But I’m withholding judgment until we see how the fantasy showdown plays out.

  9. Over with? Nooooo!

    This is the most interesting thing on this site. Once your done with GoT, you should go on to CoK, ASoS, AFFC and DwD. It will be glorious!

    As for this chapter, Bran is my least favourite POV. He is too much of a child for me, and whiny as well. Even his prophecies are bland…


    ..compared to The House of the Undying this is just meh. Now, THAT is some prophecy with meat on it. Creepy too.

  10. That’s a good point since is destiny, while possibly more big picture than anyone else, isn’t perceived that way to the world we know and interact with.

    I totally agree with you, Bran very much takes away from the juice of what I’m (more) enjoying and offers very little to those threads for me.

    oddly, I did like Bran when The Reeds show up and it’s specifically because they offered a possible revelation regarding past events of characters I do more enjoy.

  11. Dany has a bit of a lifeline because she is at least an issue to the main plot of this book, though I did struggle with later Dany because I felt like it was overkill to give her something to do before she does something that matter to any others of import in the book.

    Today, I’d say there is zero chance we are doing Mash of Kings.

  12. That was a really great line about her. I too have felt that way. Probably most people have at one time or another…even people like Sansa. Right? Surely? 🙂

    And yes, that is about all there is to say about this chapter!

  13. HA! I can understand both impetuses (impeti?) equally. I’ve found a couple books where I had to jump forward to same storyline and go back to the others. I might here, too, except for breaking up my reading to analyze like I am, anyway.

  14. @DarthRachel
    Once I started getting into Audiobooks (yay 45min commute each way each day) the fatigue really let up. I agree, there’s a lot to process, and some of the “poorly read” books can just compound that problem, but man are the AGOT audiobooks (the ones read by Roy Dotrice *wink*) are just tremendous. He has great voices, really brings you into the book. He’s the voice of Hodor… No matter what Hodor says *grin*. But Audiobooks are realtively slowly paced, so it actually forces me to listen(read) slower and I catch stuff I didn’t catch through the text.

    I still read text to some extent but I find myself more and more wanting to get it on Audio for pacing and for convenience. You should try and find the audiobooks for GRRM books, they are awesome (at least the first 3)

  15. Bran gives all cripples like me hope of being a bad-ass sorceror. He is actually in my top 5. I just hope he gets more to do instead of traveling who knows where. I think, as with Sansa, he doesn’t stand out like Jon and Arya yet, but have huge potential going forward. Dark horses for sure.

  16. I have never listened to an audiobook in my life specifically because I feel like I’d get obsessed.

  17. @Elena

    “…What did Bran see in the heart of winter?…”
    I ask myself that very thing.

    The heart of winter and the vision of the stone giant were the two things that stayed with me after reading this chapter.
    What do these visions mean?
    Would love to share theories and future discoveries with you, but not yet.


    This chapter is very similar to the house of the undying for me.
    Lots of clues/hints/promises as to what may/will come.

    We know that Bran dreams true, because we already know some of these visions are true.

    The Three eyed crow is obviously a brother of the Nights Watch. One that has powers of the mind (the third eye) and is obviously trying to awaken Bran’s abilities. The fact that Bran must live tells me that the Black Brother also has prophetic dreams and that Bran is much stronger than the 3 eyed crow. A Dead brother perhaps (cold hands)? Or a live brother warging a Wight? Interesting possibilities here.

    The moment I read that Gregor’s head was sent south to Dorne I figured that the giant of stone with the empty helmet was Gregor. After hearing in AFFC that Gregor was now invincible in battle, I have very little doubt. Franken_Gregor… An invulnerable headless giant indeed. Quite a challenge for the Hound. For we know Gregor belongs to the Hound, in the end.

    Finally, Bran and the heart of winter.

    GRRM wrote this tale called “The Ice Dragon.” That is what came to mind when I read abut the heart of winter. I LOVE the image of a gigantic Ice Dragon.
    Bran will be the key. From AFFC, we know that Bran can Warg into humans (Hodor). So I dream now of Bran warging into Dany’s Black Dragon and diving to the heart of winter.
    I don’t know what GRRM has in mind.

    But, I hope it is something like that.

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