Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Bran Stark Chapter 8

And we all fall down! So how did Elena react to Bran’s tumble? What does she predict? Does Jay even care about the little guy? Just who the hell are Elena and Jay? She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on.

Don’t forget that last week we covered Arya!

game of thrones

An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena  –

Up front, I did not read ahead to discover if Bran is as dead as the end of his chapter implied.  Wha—why—how could I possibly…?  I don’t properly know.  A masochistic enjoyment of exploring the thoughts each segment provoked before going on to the next, I suppose.  I mean, with the time gaps between each chapter for all I know the next one will be another couple weeks down the line once they’re all on the road or some shit.  So I didn’t look.

I don’t think there’s going to be some miraculous save, however, for several reasons:

(1)  Killing off a point of view character (and especially a child) 50 pages in shows that Martin is not fucking around—that he is not writing fantasy that could be confused with YA reading;

(2)  Killing off a “major” character early shows that the stakes in any given situation could literally be life and death for a character (disallows any easy assumption that someone will make it out of a situation because of course the book isn’t over yet);

and, finally,

(3) If Bran saw and heard what he saw and heard between the queen and her brother (Jaime the Kingslayer?  Or did Cersei have more brothers than him and Tyrion?  I didn’t bother to go re-read that family tree before writing this, though I will as soon as I’m done!) and lived, it’s pretty much game over for her little intrigue, isn’t it?  At the very least it tips off Ned Stark to be much warier of the Lannisters than he already is, and warns Robert of her intentions.  Maybe he can’t take the word of a 7-year-old boy over his wife’s, but it could make him guard her.

The irony of Bran’s falling, of course, is that it had nothing to do with his climbing as Catelyn had feared since he started doing it.  Bran was never going to fall on his own.  Why do I think that?  My own experiences growing up.  I was a country kid, and I grew up without my parents looking over my shoulder all the time.  My brother and I used to roam the countryside well out of eye- and ear-shot of our parents, climb high-ass pine trees, build tree forts out of scrap wood and bent nails, swim in muddy creeks without second thought…all sorts of things that the modern sensibilities-brainwashed and, admittedly, kind of timid (when it comes to physicality) adult in me looks back on and thinks how the fuck did we live through that, much less without once getting a serious injury? No broken bones, no concussions, no snake bites.

The worst that ever happened to either of us were bike wrecks that left scars on our knees and elbows.  The thing is, though, that I remember being a kid and what my mentality was—and contrary to modern thinking, kids aren’t stupid.  They are aware when something they are doing could be dangerous, but they are not stymied by that fear, is all.  Also they have a very natural connection with their own bodies; they don’t think twice about using them for jumping and landing and climbing because they have an unconscious sense of their own limits.  Bran exemplified that.  He wasn’t going to fall to his death no matter how much he climbed around on the top of Winterfell, and Ned was right to tell Catelyn not to stop him.

No, what caused him to fall had everything to do with his being too trusting—too innocent—to be wary of the hand extended to him.  He was clearly raised to trust everyone around him, because none of the adults in his life had ever betrayed his child’s implicit trust in them.  That to me says a lot about what Ned and Catelyn have been as parents, and the kind of people they keep around them.  So what caused him to fall was that he trusted the queen’s brother, despite everything that he had overheard, because no one in his life had ever given him a reason not to be trusting.

However, will Catelyn hold Bran’s death against Ned, since Ned had basically told her she couldn’t stop Bran from climbing around wherever he wanted?  Or will she be smart enough, having so recently received the missive from her sister about Jon Arryn being murdered, to be suspicious that the kid who had been climbing all over the castle for years just happened to fall when there were Lannisters around?  I don’t remember (if it’s been explicitly said) if Ned’s dislike and distrust of the family has extended to his wife.

Will Ned be conspiracy-theory-ish enough to wonder at the coincidence?

So Cersei is clearly being established as an evil bitch.  I find her mentality intriguing.  She has a particular point of view of the world, and she seems incapable of understanding that someone else may have a very different way of looking at and valuating the world.  For example, she can’t comprehend someone like Ned taking the position of the King’s Hand for reasons other than ambitions for the throne or at least for replacing the Lannisters in influence over it—she assumes he must have some sinister reason, as opposed to what we know is his reluctant agreement for the sake of protecting his family (ironically from Cersei herself).

When she speaks of Robert still being in love with the dead Stark sister, she implies that his love for her had to do with the girl being 16, and that he would pick someone like that to replace her with.  She doesn’t seem to consider that it might have had to do with a quality of character in the sister that he expects never to find again.  The discussion created a subtle but very clear exposition of this woman’s self-centered narcissistic ruthlessness.  I think ultimately her defining characteristic is that she has no empathy—that is, she is incapable of truly understanding another person’s point of view; all she can do is project her own motives onto their behavior.

What I find hilarious is that I can’t figure out if she is supposed to be a shocking female character (since aren’t women supposed to be naturally empathetic?) or a stereotypical Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus type of woman who just can’t understand why she’s so hard to understand.  I have known a few females who are that sort of self-involved in an outwardly projected way, so it’s not unrealistic.  I’m just curious where Martin is coming from when he constructed the personality flaw—observation, pique, or thinking it was something women usually aren’t.  You series veterans have any thoughts?  Remember share them without spoilers!!!

What does Cersei really think of the scheme to marry Sansa to Joff?  If she hates Ned as being truly loyal to Robert, wouldn’t she loathe the idea of his daughter marrying her son and giving him an even greater interest in the throne?

I also wanted, when I started thinking about this chapter, to go back and re-read the section in the tomb to see what, if anything, Robert said about his wife’s thoughts on the matter.  I’m sure she’s too clever to raise any objections—it was more that I was curious if he had discussed it with her before he discussed it with Ned.  Jay brought up, in his announcement of the HBO teaser, Atia from Rome when discussing how much power Dani has to have on screen to make us care, given her small part at this point in the story.  I’m thinking of Atia with Livia, when she gives her the “bitch, please, I could eat you for breakfast” speech in the final episode.  Cersei could (and likely will eventually) eat Sansa for breakfast, if Bran’s innocence is any indication of what the girl’s mindset will be.  Hoping now that Catelyn is as ruthlessly ambitious as she came off in her second chapter, enough to have prepared her daughters for the Lannisters.

So, one other thought on Cersei:  are Robert’s children really his?  Or is Cersei is so eager to have Joff on the throne because that will mean having a full-blooded Lannister there?  Also, given the proclivities of the previous royal family in power to marry siblings, how can Robert not wonder if the Lannisters have the same mentality?  If they’ve been power-drenched for so long that their vote to overthrow the Targaryens was essentially what made it happen?

Final thought on the chapter:  I thought the connection between Bran and his wolf to be very interesting.  There seemed a clear supernatural or at least metaphysical connection between them.  The wolf had some sort of prescience, to object to Bran climbing the tower this particular day.  Was it just literary foreshadowing that Bran wasn’t long for this world, that he couldn’t come up with a name for his wolf, or was he marked for death and that was why he couldn’t name it?  And what happens to his wolf now?

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

Jay –

Lots to get into here, much of which has very little to do with the big dramatic moment. So begins the revelation of the not so misunderstood Jaime Lannister. I know, I know…Bran. Let’s get to him later, as I find Jaime to be the much more interesting character. In fact, even though in the previous Jon chapter  I identified Tyrion as one of my favorite characters of all time, by A Feast for Crows Jaime had clearly ascended to my second favorite in the series.

While we read the series we feel there is an evolution to Jaime, but the reality as I see it  is that he’s always been confronted with hard decisions, and more than once took one for the team. More and more, I view Brienne and his hand  not so much as changes; they are reasons. Where the story tends to happen to a Bran (and a lot of characters), Jaime is one of those characters who every now and then is forced to make a decision that become stories – who indeed is more famous than the Kingslayer? In a series by an author who loves history, Jaime is a bit of an ultimate timeline marker. I find it very interesting – and no coincidence – that later he is given authority to chronicle history, to note how others will be remembered. His motivations don’t offend me. Hell, his ability to think and react doesn’t either (though the Blackfish later exploits this). What does he exploit though? Part of it is bravery. He drops Bran.


For the life of his sister/lover, his children, and not to mention himself (though I suspect the order of importance to him is in that order). Does he show remorse? I think so, because I’ve always taken the scene,  that moment of consideration, to be that of  remorse:

The man looked over at the woman. “The things I do for love,” he said with loathing.

He made a choice. A terrible one to be sure, but all of his choices are. They always have been.  Jaime’s life – as we know it – has been a combination of legitimate deeds and no-win decisions (we can talk about it all we want, but for most people, if it’s either them or you and your family, you pick the latter and don’t have to explain anything to me). Enough about Jaime though, we’ll talk more as we move on and when we get to A Feast for Crows in 2016.

Now on to Bran muffin, half the boy he used to be. The glory of this book is that this single, short chapter put forth several relatively significant plot points, it even (already) ends a story, and attempts trick us in believing a simple mystery concludes as well. The latter – as you can tell from Elena’s own statements – is a scene dangling the possibility strongly indicating that the Lannisters did in fact murder Jon Arryn (though if so, Jaime did not know of it), which of course, they did not.

Elena’s own interpretation of Lysa’s message and Catelyn’s veracity in relaying it is something she has been asking me about indirectly, which I’ve avoided because the assumption of guilt is wrong in the first place. To displace that would no doubt take away from both this and later books. This is an example of Martin’s trapdoors that I talked about earlier, where intuitive leaps even by veteran readers are used against you – you can’t just look forward, behind you, and around, you must always consider the ground you tread. In this case, even just warning her to mind her feet seemed inappropriate. The mastery, of course, is that you still feel pretty damn good about the lie.

As a re-reader I have to keep it real. I appreciate the function and it’s supremely effective application, but the woulda rise and fall of Bran was a drag. Just a bit — the fall was great. What also work is the idea of the  entire inner-monologue – this fantasy – which completely sells the pov of  a child.

I vividly recall being a kid in elementary school ,wandering through halls during class (bathroom pass, baby!) thinking this is what Vader feels like roaming the Deathstar (the analogy goes a bit further, being on a U.S. Military school overseas — and I had ambitions of universe crushing). I’m not sure how kids are now, and indeed, most of the time I don’t want to know, but Bran is, in some sense, us. If he was born in early 80’s or 70s in Texas, he probably would have been reading Terry Brooks and David Eddings. He’s a dreamer. Look at the way he catalogs the Kingsguard, not much different than how I would have cycled through sports figures when I was younger, swapping baseball cards. Martin puts an end to it though, taking the fantasy back:

Ser Jaime Lannister looked more like the knights in the stories, and he was of the Kingsguard

and a line from the Jon chapter:

This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.

…and made him the man who would drop Bran. Back to Jaime for a moment (I promise), I find it fascinating that not only did/does Jaime want to be this great knight, not only did he have the martial to skill to achieve it, but Martin – by all character accounts – seems to repeatedly remind us that physically he resembles what a real knight should look like. He had everything but the choices. He certainly failed (at the beginning), but unlike many of the other Kingsguard we meet, he’s not a sap; he actually could have been great. This may be taking the man-crush too far, but I recall his later meeting with Catelyn while he was prisoner:

Glinting gold in the lamplight, the whiskers made him look like some great yellow beast, magnificent even in chains. His unwashed hair fell to his shoulders in ropes and tangles, the clothes were rotting on his body, his face was pale and wasted…and even so, the power and the beauty of the man were still apparent.

Kind of a moment almost  straight out of a trashy romance novel, right? It will be interesting to see if Elena — who reads them — thinks the same when we get to it. For now, what we need to know is that this guy is a primal force of nature, like the legends Bran recounts (who almost undoubtedly had their own problems) in this chapter.

He even says that all he ever wanted to be was Ser Arthur Dayne –  was in a unique position to know what that actually meant. He lost that, and you can see him later trying to regain it, reminding himself perhaps, as he schools the members of the Kingsguard he  commands. Think about how the others ascended — then realize Jaime was knighted on the field of battle by the damn Sword of the Morning. It’s not just the reader that buy it either, as dialogue that always comes back to me are the recounting of Whispering Wood, how he came after Robb, just shouting the young King’s name. Also, recall Theon’s own words, his pride in merely almost crossing swords with the Kingslayer.

“We ought to count ourselves fortunate,” the man said. “The king might as easily have named one of his brothers, or even Littlefinger, gods help us. Give me honorable enemies rather than ambitious ones, and I’ll sleep more easily by night.”

Even now, Littlefinger is mentioned, even if (perhaps) a bit in jest. Jaime doesn’t strike me as someone who cares to be politically aware (rather, he may just be indifferent) but even he recognizes the ambition of a physically non-imposing player, who has no great land claim or followers. In some ways, I think Littlefinger – if not having more ambitious motives – would be a perfect Hand. Capable, willing, yet owing any power he wields to the throne and Robert.

“Lord Eddard has never taken any interest in anything that happened south of the Neck,” the woman said. “Never. I tell you, he means to move against us. Why else would he leave the seat of his power?”

I’m a quasi-defender of Cersei, but I find myself struggling with this line and agreeing with Elena. Does she fear Lysa’s lies and that Ned would pursue justice? Or does she really think that Ned has decided to move against House Lannister (which essentially, in part, means the throne itself)?

I find her to be rather idiotic this entire chapter, though it is understandable paranoia considering the stakes. She – and Jaime – live under the constant possibility that their secret would be revealed. She’s trying to race to the top as fast as possible, because she thinks that will be the only place safe for her and her children. What’s always stupefied me is that Cersei and Jaime could always call it quits and obtain her (and in an odd sense) his goals. I’m no so sure how much I buy her devotion to him, so it seems like she could have cut it off or even set him at any point.

I also find myself thinking, what exactly does Cersei want? Regency couldn’t have been the long term goal, and from certain perspective, a marriage with the Starks  would seem like an optimal union to keep Joff safe. Am I missing something? Who do you think Cersei would have wanted Joff to marry? See what I mean? It’s hard to come up with anyone where she wouldn’t create problems, which is why the later comments by Littlefinger in aFfC about Cersei’s progressive bungling is even more apt, coming from the chaos bringer himself!

The man sighed. “You should think less about the future and more about the pleasures at hand.”

Random I’m sure, but I found this interesting because of who said it. I continue to be impressed by the complete differences in what is important and worth talking about between Elena and I. This chapter is a bit different due to extravagantly dramatic event for a new re-reader, but what it does make me look forward to the possible exceptions where new reader and re-reader see as one.

Through emails I can sense the excitement level amp up on Elena’s part. Not that she ever wasn’t enjoying the read, but there’s something to be said about this chapter, our first Martinian cliffhanger, and having Tyrion right after it (the howling of direwolf connecting the chapters is a great segue).

That’s right, Tyrion is next!


  1. I remember when I read this chapter I thought Bran would live, because his knowledge of the secret passages of Winterfell, and in particular the one which he thinks even Maester Luwin must not know, seemed like a perfect Chekov’s Gun. Never was quite sure until I found out, though.

  2. Elena, I really love reading your view of all this as someone who is new to it all. Please never read a chapter ahead to see what happens, it will spoil your enjoyment of the story as it unfolds. When I read your musings on the chapter you’ve just read I find myself going back to my own thoughts when I first read it and seeing how closely they mirror your own predictions. This particular chapter is, I believe, a genuine turning point for the book and the series as a whole.

  3. Elena–

    Not to sound too repetitive, but I want to riff on my previous idea of Martin’s handling of women within this novel as an attempt to put a specific set of rules into place and then is working out the consequences of this with different characters. Given a world where women have significantly more restricted power in comparison with men (in terms of combat and cultural prestige, largely along the lines of medieval history) and where marriage is a political maneuver more than an attempt to establish a love match, it seems to me that Martin is asking himself what kinds of reactions women might have to the circumstances. Cat is one reaction, and Cersei is another. There are others we will meet, and I would be curious to see how you respond to them within this framework as we move forward. As always, I am greatly enjoying this read-through, and I hope you are enjoying these chapters as well.


    I realize this is somewhat early, but I am curious if you are planning to do a chapter-by-chapter reading of the next book. Would it be something you are willing to consider? I am enjoying your readings here, especially the connections made back through the chapters.

  4. What a chapter, what a chapter!

    Jay- (sorry Elena, SPOILERS ahoy)
    I’ve always thought of Cersei as protecting herself and her children first and foremost. I wonder if she actually thought Ned would refuse to be the Hand, when the King asked him so directly. Perhaps it’s not the fact that he agreed to be Hand that’s worrying her. It’s the fact that an HONEST, LOYAL man, not under her sway at all, is going to take power in her court. She’s worried once he gets a real taste of life at court that he will like it, and begin to carve out alliances for himself and his family.

    It’s only logical that Cersei would think this, because in her mind, that’s natural. And if Ned followed this oh-so-natural course, Cersei would not have any recourse to stop him, and her power would continually diminish. Ned has such sway with Robert that I think it’s unsettling to *everyone* else. That’s why the minute Ned starts to go after her, she sees the need to do away with him. And then once he’s dealt with so easily, she naturally thinks that it would be just as easy to do away with Robert and really cement her power. After all, hasn’t that been her dream since her father promised her that she would be the most powerful woman in the realm?

  5. My lady – without spoilers, I believe Martin’s creation of Cersei came from observation. You have to remember there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about the characters. When you know Cersei’s history, and see thing from her PoV, I think you’ll understand that her whole life has led to this flaw.
    Probable SPOILERS
    Jay – it is so refreshing to find someone who thinks of Jaime as fundamentally good. I loved what was revealed about him, and I cannot help but agree – his hand was a reason. In fact, I can’t wait to hear your opinion about why Jaime did what he did in the THrone Room, in the defining moments of his life. It’s obvious he killed Aerys – why didn’t he flee or tell the truth? It was Lord Summerhall who came in – the man who had trained him as a squire, his father’s loyal bannerman – he would have believed him. Why did he feel the need to sit on the Iron Throne? What truly caused his response to Ned when Ned came in (hopefully, you’ll discuss this this year – I remember the first mention of it being in one of Ned’s chapters)?
    These are some of the most important questions, to my mind, in figuring out a lot more about Jaime.

  6. Jacob, I can’t speak for Elena, but it is my plan to continue. Hopefully, A Mash of Kings becomes a reality! Thanks for the kind words!

    – Kinda spoiler belows –

    Kalith_rian, I seem to remember that he considered slipping out, but I’d want to brush up on that portion before commenting. I do want save some of the Jaime stuff for later, but I will say that I think Ned really acted like a Grade A ass given the situtation, and I think too many readers give him a pass because of the Ned and Jaime they “know” in A Game of Thrones (which is unfair for many reasons, including that Jaime was, I believe, 17 when he killed Aerys).

    *End of Kinda Spoilers*

    ***Super SPOILERS (to reply to Birdie)***

    Birdie, I completely agree with you at some point afterwards, and this play into Elena’s thought that Cersei is incapable of empathy. We also see Cersei revert to what she “knows” when Ned confronts here with his evidence. It just seems like there was an easier, more sensible route in all of this – embracing Robert and Ned, afterall, Ned would have done everything in his power to protect Robert and his family – he is honor bound to do so – and I think Jaime actually see’s that with. Of course ,the elephant is her relationship with Jaime, and as wrote this, I will admit to struggling with how strong she felt that info was about to get out, as it seemed that secret is precarious whether Ned or anyone else took the position. Her failure, in my mind, was not getting over the slight so long ago – as she literally had everything: her child is the heir, she’s the queen, Jaime is close, and Robert just have power to the most loyal person in the realm. I don’t blame her for it, but at some point over the years, one would think she could just wait Robert”s lifestyle out, or even worked to move against him, but doing so under a more clever guise of loyalty. She could have easily portrayed the beautiful wife of an unworthy king. This make me wonder exactly where Tywin was in all of this.


  7. Jay, I was hoping that the 2016 comment was in jest, but thinking of the scope of the four books, it very well may take 5 years to get through them in the wonderful detail you and Elena are giving them.

    Elena, This was my first “jump up out of bed, no way that just happened” moment, and the beginning of my true love for this series. It feels like you are going down that same path as well!

  8. Hi Elena,

    I think the following will be fairly free of spoilers.

    Empathy is a trait for people that care. Cersei does not have the luxury of caring. She grew up in a ruthless world and she does whatever needs to be done to keep herself and her loved ones safe.

    I second Kalith_rian’s point that Cersei’s personality is tied to her history. Her ultimate goal is simple, to control her own life. I’ve met many beautiful women with an obsessive need for control. The world is chaos and hurt. Controlling their surroundings completely keeps them safe from this chaos.

    Cersei fears what she cannot control. She cannot control Robert and she understands that Ned’s loyalty is to Robert and not her. So she cannot control Ned.

  9. Hi Elena,

    Kudos for stopping right there. Great self-discipline you got there.

    Not sure if it’s actually healthy…

    I do remember this chapter even after such a long time: the description of the castle, the ‘stop and smell the roses’ quality of it, the innocence of a kid, one of the few confirmed/reported laughs by teh Ned,… then BANG.

    You know HBO’s pilot ends right there? “The thing I do for love” is the official non-spoiler euphemism for that scene.

    Like others, I enjoying your read-through, and I hope you are enjoying these chapters as well. I just don’t think you should force yourself _too hard_ to stop at the end of the chapter.

    gl hf


  10. @Jay – Re the psychology of Cersei (SPOILERS)

    oh dear god do i love reading about this character!!!

    this is the whole point of Cersei that she is her own worst enemy, her perception of the world is so distorted by her total need for more power, her pathological paranoia (she is unbelievably insecure) and her complete lack of empathy that she has no idea (that she cannot see) that she already has everything that she has been working for

    it all starts off so reasonable

    her paranoia at the threat of Ned does seem understandable – with him coming to Kings Landing she feels she will be losing status and thus power, acting ruthlessly to keep an important secret is also understandable.

    i think the fact that she lost her mother at such a young age and Tywins parenting after she was not taught how to think/empathise properly (Tyrion seems to have taught himself extremely well)

    when i say empathise i don’t mean kindness i mean the ability to put yourself in anothers mind, she seems incapable of connecting/understanding someones character and therefore their motivations she just relates it to herself and then acts accordingly

    her idolisation of Tywin and wanting to be his legacy – again because she doesn’t see him for what he is, unlike Tyrion – i just find sad

    must stop now i could go on forever

    love your analysis

  11. i put the book down for a good hour , i could not believe what had happen, such a sweet little boy, still i wonder why did he feel the need to see who was in the room, couldnt he have waited to see when they got out somehow, this was a cautionary tale of how curiosity killed the cat! so far though i’m loving the direwolves and how they are so alike their owners! this action has me thinking no matter what i read from now on in this series i will never side with jaime and cersei lannister, i can never forgive them for that, he’s a kid not some rag doll! huge no-no!

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