PART I: BLOOD INSPIRES the DIREWOLVES WHO THEN EMPOWER THEIR STARK WARGS
BRAN? AN ACCIDENTAL VICTIM OF
THE VIOLATIONS of the LAWS OF HOSPITALITY
The forces that are the old gods may appear to be more impotent than omnipotent, but gods work in mysterious ways, especially the old gods of the north. Represented as watching through the eyes of the weirwoods, the old gods appear related to elements in nature, such as stone, earth, tree, wind, and water. The revelation in the Cave of Skulls that Bran is a greenseer explains Bran’s “wolf” and “tree” dreams. Now that Bran is part of the godhood, sitting a weirwood throne of his own next to Lord Brynden, he will assert his powers, but how awaits to be seen.
Even though the old gods send the Stark siblings direwolf puppies to assist the awakening of their wolf spirits, the Starks need to be receptive and heed the alerts of their pups Otherwise, a Stark exercising “free will” often undermines the preventative measures the old gods established. For instance, Bran chooses to climb even though his direwolf pup’s “howling chased him all the way up the tree” (78-79). Moreover, when Bran turns to look down, Summer quiets, looking at Bran with “slitted yellow eyes” and warning him telepathically of the danger above. Bran feels a “strange chill” pass through him. Apparently, Bran’s pup is minding Bran, but Bran is not minding his pup.
Violations of the sacred laws of hospitality are believed to be so egregious and so blasphemous that the gods themselves punish the offender. The old gods’ assignation of punishment to the violator is a careful balance to ensure that the penance “fits” the crime.
While a guest of Lord Eddard Stark and a knight in King Robert’s kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister secretly meets with his sister Cersei in an abandoned tower, where they make love. In the throes of passion, Cersei catches sight of a child hanging outside the tower window. Bran’s fingers slip, and Jaime rescues Bran, ordering him to “TAKE MY HAND!” Bran desperately latches onto Jaime’s forearm and presses down so hard that he leaves welts. Bran’s fear is palpable. Regardless, a moment later, Jaime shoves Bran off the window sill, saying, “The things I do for love” (85).
It is karmic, ironic, and a matter of “poetic justice” that Jaime forfeits the very thing he orders Bran Stark to TAKE, his hand, his “sword” hand, the symbol of a knight’s power, the deliverer of death to a Targaryen king, the means by which Bran falls. “Taking” Jaime’s hand is a fate worse than death because without his sword hand, Jaime is a “cripple”. When Tyrion tells Jaime that Bran is going to live even with a broken neck and shattered legs, Jaime says, “…he will be a cripple. Worse than a cripple. A grotesque. Give me a good, clean death” (91).
It is unlikely the gods will oblige Jaime’s wishes; after all, dying is easy – “living” is hard. Since Jaime robs Bran of his future dreams, the forces that are the old gods, or that serve as agents of the old gods, will make sure that Jaime’s fate matches or exceeds the intensity of Bran’s suffering.
Jaime’s “violations” are threefold:
Jaime attempts to kill the son of his host.
Jaime fornicates with his own twin sister in an abandoned tower of his host’s castle.
Jaime commits treason when he and the queen have sexual relations while guests of Winterfell.
Bran is the Stark that Martin most associates with the sacred laws of hospitality. After his older brother Robb departs from Winterfell, Bran assumes the role of host to the Stark bannermen visiting Winterfell to pledge their fealty for another term. Bran must serve as his brother Robb and father Eddard do before him, so Bran models his hosting behavior on the two best men he knew.
Furthermore, through Old Nan’s story of the “Rat Cook”, Bran hears a cautionary tale that warns of harsh punishment for those who violate the laws of hospitality. Bran repeats this story for Jojen and Meera Reed when they take a break on their journey, and before they cross under the Wall to continue their odyssey to the Cave of Skulls.
The legend of the “Rat Cook” tells of a brother of the Night’s Watch who prepares a delicious pie to serve the visiting king. The king praises the culinary skills of the cook, after which the king learns that mixed in with the bacon filling is a secret ingredient: the King’s own son. The Nightfort cook avenges some wrong the King had visited upon him. Consequently, the old gods punish the cook for killing a guest under his own roof, and the penalty is extremely harsher than the laws of men: the cook is transformed into a giant rat destined to feed on his own young to nourish himself. The cook’s misery is a fate worse than a merciful death, and this legend exemplifies how the magical forces work. In the case of the cook, his punishment fits his crime: a rat is a fitting creature to house the Nightfort cook’s black soul. Rats are loathsome symbols of disease, waste, and deadliness. The moral of the story is to respect the sacred laws governing hospitality.
The Stark ancestry is clearly enmeshed in the sacred laws of hospitality and the guest right. The stone statues of the Lords of Winterfell and the Kings of Winter that uniformly line each level of the crypts best illustrates an association with refusing hospitality. The stone masons repeat the same “sitting” posture for all the dead, one that suggests the Starks “do not rest” in peace. With “stone eyes” open yet blind, the “dead of Winterfell seemed to watch with cold and disapproving eyes” (48). Even more telling is the unsheathed iron sword that rests across their knees, a symbol that a lord or king is refusing his hospitality. This unspoken threat is meant to discourage unwelcome guests. Furthermore, curled at the feet of the stone Starks is a stone direwolf, another warning that the Starks are not alone as enforcers of these sacred laws.
Martin emphasizes the significance of the unsheathed sword in AGoT through Bran’s narrative. Sitting on a cold stone “high seat” of House Stark, Robb receives guest Tyrion Lannister by striking a familiar pose:
“His sword was across his knees, the steel bare for all the world to see. Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an unsheathed sword” (242).
Robb mirrors the Winterfell dead. Grey Wind even joins him later, heeling at Robb’s feet to complete the composition. This depiction also foreshadows Robb and Grey Wind’s deaths.
So, the BIG question is “WHY” do the Starks sit at the ready instead of reclining on their tombs with their eyes closed? Could the answer be as simple as “Winter is coming”?
Martin teases by revealing too little to develop a theory with concrete, undeniable evidences from the text. After all, Lord Brynden succinctly tells Bran and the readers that “Men forget. Only trees remember” (ADwD 449).
Jojen offers more explanation: “The secrets of the old gods … Truths the First Men knew now forgotten in Winterfell… but not in the wet wild. We live closer to the green in our bogs and crannogs, and we remember. Earth and water, soil and stone, oaks and elms and willows, they were here before us all and will still remain when we are gone” (449).
Readers enjoy speculating about the nature of this forgotten knowledge. Martin implies that Bran will acquire this forgotten knowledge as a greenseer. However, Jojen indicates that the Reeds “remember” since they are closer to nature. The Reeds have told Bran about their home, Grey Water Watch, a castle that dwells beneath or on top of the waters, and one that moves regularly so that its location is never known for a certainty.
With the stone Starks and their stone direwolves symbolically guarding the WF crypts against unwelcome guests, Martin may be insinuating events to come, especially with Bran as a greenseer and as a victim of violations against the laws of hospitality. Maybe Bran will use his magic to call forth the spirits of the dead Starks to a purpose – with the blood that unites the earliest Starks with the most recent Starks, there certainly exists the potential for profound magical spells.