Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Bran Chapter 1

The new hotness and old and busted. She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. You can check out our thoughts on the prologue that went up yesterday, and now we move on to the first chapter, which is a Bran Stark chapter.

game of thrones

An A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena –

The opening chapter of the narrative proper felt like it might have been more like a second prologue, as it recounted a day of potentially defining experience for Bran when he was seven years old.  (Somehow, I don’t expect he’ll still be seven the next time we see him.)

We watched him attend an execution—the king’s justice—for the first time with his older brothers, and on the way home they found a strange and wondrous thing: a dead direwolf, but a bitch that had managed to whelp her litter before she died (or, more gruesomely, afterward).  The boys wanted to take the pups, and when their reluctant father tried to say no, the bastard brother Jon Snow reminded his father that the direwolf was on the family’s standard and pointed out how the litter matched up with his children.  His legitimate children.

That self-sacrificing choice to exclude himself made Jon a hero to Bran, and to me.  It was a moment of both kindness and pragmatism—he saw his brothers’ hope to keep the puppies, and he recognized the necessity of drawing a line between himself and them to create an argument for keeping the dogs.  That forced parallel seemed like the sort of imposition on reality people sometimes use when they are looking for A Sign, that maybe isn’t really a sign, but they want to see it that way, so they do. Until the turn at the end of the chapter, when Jon Snow hears something and goes back to find one last pup.  A white one with red eyes—albino—that had been shunned by the others, separated from the pack. That made it a motherfucking Sign.  That sign put chills up my back and made my stony heart ache at how beautiful it was. What can I say, I love dogs—especially big dogs, I mean, mine is a mastiff, what the hell does that tell you?—and I already love Jon Snow just for being so damn practical (not nearly enough people are), and the little albino dog matching his name and his own outcast situation….Yeah. Sign.

Which tells us that in this world Fate exists, and Portents of Doom and Forebodings of Greatness, and all that shit.  Good to know going in—lends a gravity to signs people see later, which creates either foreshadowing or red herrings, depending on whether it was an MFS (motherfucking Sign) or just something they wanted to read into but really wasn’t a sign at all.

One cultural underpinning I especially liked was Bran’s father administering the execution himself, because of the idea that if a man can order death without doling it out himself, he soon forgets what it means.  I like it. A lot. Certainly disallows for any namby-pamby rulers.  It also speaks to my impoverished intellectual idealism of not letting money or elitist philosophy disconnect you from the real world. It’s a notion that I find myself considering more and more the older I get and the more I learn about what passes for the normal lifestyle in my school/work/intellectual peers and how far divorced from that was my own childhood…and as I wonder more and more, the closer I get to having kids of my own, how I can divorce their experience from modernity’s soul-sucking disconnection with Real Life.

Favorite quote has to be the last line of the chapter, which isn’t powerful without the context but in the context makes you burn with the conviction and fierceness of the bastard Jon Snow who might just love that little rejected pup more than his brothers and sisters love theirs, because it is so unequivocally analogous to himself:  “I think not, Greyjoy. This one belongs to me.”  Damn straight.

Do not read on if you have not read the series and want to avoid spoilers–

Jay –

Don’t recall this chapter being quite so glorious, sausage party and all. Intended or not  (because the idea of purposeful writing for the re-read sill boggles my mind, no matter how practiced I am in participating)  there is a lot here that just had me in recollecting and discovery mode. The first sentence, “The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer”, is essentially another way of saying the Stark words: Winter is Coming.  Ominous words coming off of the prologue. Speaking of which,  you have to love the connection to the prologue and  even though I mentioned it yesterday, it still read well and led to one of my favorite quotes in the books:

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”

“That is the only time a man can be brave”

Gared didn’t fear death, but he feared what he saw. Again, winter is coming and we should be scared shitless, which is why the prologue being a horror story is (Iron Bank  backed) money. Jon comes out and calls it “Dead of fear”.

Setting is revealed in an organic enough way.  The execution — even down to Ned’s  decree to the doomed man —  allows Martin to reveal to us some information about where we are without forsaking the idea of believable and natural dialogue.  In this  matter, Ned is just an all-star, coming off as a by-the-book personality who who would honor and respect formality that allows for it.

We wouldn’t  roll our eyes because of him, we’d role our eyes at him — a hell of a distinction that Martin tends to land on the right side of  an overwhelmingly amount of the time.We learn both about Ned’s principles and through him the traditions of the North (as he sees them), and that he’s pretty damn hardcore. Not only for doing the deed himself (with sweet sword), but also because the quote above is directed at his 7-year old son who just got to see his first beheading. So basically you get the idea that the Starks — thus the North  – – are hard.  Ned is principled, and by this chapter’s indication — through his son’s eyes — a good father and leader, or at the very least tries to be.

You don’t get a whole hell of a lot of that in an entertainment media anymore, though it does kind of go down the tubes as he reverts to sitcom status bungling dad (though thankfully without the overly sensible and extravagantly competent and out of his league wife to fix everything and humor him afterwards). The execution scene itself seemed surreal, Theon being the one handing Ned Ice. Our relationship with Ned is bookended by the choppin’ block.

Lots of symbolism/signs here and Elena touched on the wolves and matching children, but what she can’t know yet  is the significance of the cause of death of the mother wolf —  a “shattered antler” to the throat —  as she has not yet been introduced to House Baratheon, whose house sigil is a stag. Just made me think back forward to how much I love the bond that existed between Ned and Robert (the King, –and Martin has Ned name him to Bran, offering us the idea that he named his eldest son after the King). I will get into it a bit more in later installments, but I always viewed that relationship as the kind of shared space between Ned and Bran, one looking back on it, the others viewing it as an ideal (perhaps because both were not eldest sons).

I could be influenced by having read the series itself, but I found myself appreciating the instances of the non-Starks speaking up when do. They are identified, not just their roles, and I think in the end this makes Starks seem more familial  to those not bearing their name. Many people die in these novels, but those of the North seem to sting more than most and I think the early recognition enables that.

I share Elena’s appreciation for how the chapter ends, something that Martin is incredibly and repeatedly adept at.  I’d add that I forgot how competent and just how generally badass Jon is from the very beginning. I enjoyed  a lot of the simple moments here, even  the briefest of scenes — a single line – – displaying  the camaraderie between Rob and Jon, laughing together and racing each other. It informs a decision or at least a thought that Robb had later in the novels regarding succession. Martin also clearly distinguishes the two physically:

He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.

Their differences are not a surprise at all, even if accepting wholly  the explanation offered in the chapter (Jon being a bastard son of Edward and Robb being his eldest true born son, with dominant features of his mother–a Tully of Riverun). It is, however, the fact that they are compared directly that may be where our Jon Snow file starts.  The opposite of what a Steven Erikson does in his Malazan Book of the Fallen (not knocking it at all, I think that series is brilliant and it works marvelously there and it’s probably my favorite fantasy series) Martin is extremely detailed with character and family physical traits, going back to distant ancestors. An author who embeds reasons for overly descriptive passages regarding introductions and appearances is something fans of Fantasy have to appreciate.

It’s a huge part of the series. Earlier I said glorious, and what I meant was that when you step back from the chapter a bit, you kind of walk into this magnificent realization that you forgot that this chapter had a POV name attached to it. Bran is a sponge, and that’s what the reader becomes, soaking up the first chapter. We are a part of the world, but it isn’t ours yet, and Martin baby steps us back into the horror story we just ran away from in the prologue by instantly offering us more that we fear losing: a little boy and his puppy.

This time around the final line  put the thought in my head that perhaps the young bastard’s words to Theon in reference  to the albino direwolf  also could imply a message about the book and series itself. Is this Jon’s story?

Next chapter we see through the eyes of Bran’s momma, Catelyn Stark.

Author: Elena Nola and Jay Tomio

Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the Boomtron empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times. You can follow her reviews and commentaries at Boomtron. Jay is a silent partner in Extensive Enterprises, a bastard child of Amber, an Eleint Soletaken, a probable Targaryen, and was the second-to-last Starfighter.

19 thoughts on “Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Bran Chapter 1”

  1. Elena’s fresh take is great; sort of like reliving a really good Christmas–with more presents to come.

    But Jay … my man, that was hands-down the best single-chapter review of any portion of A Song of Ice and Fire I’ve ever read. Gave me chills.

    I love this series, and somehow you just made me love it more. I’m dying to see even a portion of this stuff on my television screen.

    More. More!

    About Yea High (Fire And Blood)

  2. Really enjoying reading Elena’s impressions as a newbie to the books. Can’t wait for her to hit some of those OMFG moments.

  3. Winter,

    That would be true if you’re on board with that theory. I use to be 100% in that camp, but not entirely sold now (unless GRRM has said something and I just haven’t noticed!). Iconic quote from (oddly) one of my favorite characters ever. I can’t wait to get to him.

    I need to see if there is a comment system that has spoilers blocks!

  4. One of the strongest things in this chapter (that you can obviously only get on re-reads) is something that I haven’t seen many comment on when doing re-reads or discussing this chapter.

    ****SPOILER****

    After the party leaves the corpse of the direwolf, and presumably out of earshot of any whining direwolf puppies, Jon “hears” something that none of the other party hear, even when he has them stop and listen for it.

    What he hears is Ghost, the albino direwolf pup that was left behind. This is important for a number of reasons, the first, which is potentially noticeable to a new reader is that they should be out of earshot. The second is that throughout the rest of the series Ghost -never makes a sound-. Not a howl, not a growl, not a whimper or whine. This foreshadows the psychic connection between the wolves and the children, and suggests that, as is noted later in the series, the individual wolves are meant for a certain child specifically.

  5. I’m right there with you! It reminds me some of the joy I had when I first got put on to the books and was able to recommend it to friends who would actually want to come over and start a discussion about books/reading like it was a hot topic on the par of the last week’s NFL schedule or something!

    I think it’s that feeling that really separates Martin from most of what I read.

  6. Elana: “Somehow, I don’t expect he’ll still be seven the next time we see him.”

    Careful there, your “preconceptions of the fantasy genre” are showing. 😉

    Jay: “Is this Jon’s story?”

    I think so.

    “He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”

  7. @Jay I didn’t catch it until my third read, and then not even when I read this chapter. I was on some later Jon chapter when it mentioned Ghost’s silence and had to flip back to the first chapter to see if I was right. Since discovering it I can’t help but be impressed by it whenever I read this chapter.

  8. @ AHY and Elfy – glad you’re enjoying my thoughts along with Jay’s! and you know I’ll be OMFG’ing all over the place. It’s about the only thing I expect.

    @ Winter – ha!!! yes. even having been warned to “expect the unexpected” it’s still easy to assume. am wondering now how much i’ll make myself blush by the end of it, to go back and look at all my guesses from earlier 🙂

  9. xcellent reviews both of you.

    @Elena
    Did you make the connection that the beheaded man is Gared from the Prologue? Some people miss it on first read. What did you make of it?

    @Jay
    What I’d also add, is how this chapter first introduces us to Ned’s stubbornness and how his decision to do the right thing (in this case, the King’s justice) blinds him and leads him continuously on the wrong path to survive, protect his family and find the truth.
    Beheading Gared is the right thing to do as regards his duties to his king. But Gared alive could have helped the realm realize what’s happening beyond the wall, what’s coming and prepare for it . I’m sure Maester Aemon and the Old Bear would have liked to interrogate him, despite his craziness, and try to figure out what happened, what he saw.
    So this sends the mesage that this is not a normal good vs bad tale. The beheaded guy wasn’t really a bad guy. And those who are good and do the right thing turn out to suffer some loss for it.

    Already in the first chapter the reader gets frustrated at the protagonists for not seeing what he/she sees, for ignoring the truth that’s right before their eyes. Like you said, the POV approach means the reader is the sole carrier of some knowledge and already it bears fruit as an incentive to keep reading.

  10. Nymeria, I had not picked up on that. Will have to go re-read that now. lol. already joining in the spirit of this series, huh?

  11. @ Elena
    I couldn’t remember if it eluded me the first time when I wrote that post yesterday. But I think I put my finger on it just now. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that I missed it too the first time. Then there’s a small mention later (is it Benjen or the Old Bear? I don’t remember) that made me go back and reread the beheading scene to find out it had indeed escaped me.

    So I’m sorry if I spoiled this bit of surprise for you by asking the question too early. I’ll shut up next time and let you enjoy the surprises.

    Anyway, this gives you a good idea of how cleverly GRRM writes his POVs as truly blinkered and it’s up to the reader to make the connections. It tells you what kind of things you want to keep your eyes open for as you read. Although, in this instance, he does end up laying it out for you. But he won’t always.

  12. Nymeria, I actually filed away the thought of asking Elena that very question after we got to that chapter (and if she didn’t mention the connection), but somebody must have stolen that file!

    As for the Ned info, thanks for adding that (I hope it becomes tradition here that readers will add what they feel is vital in each chapter). Personally, I’m kind of view it as simply a standard duty issue with Ned, who if anything is practical. I think if a person that your predisposed to think is deserter comes in talking (and looking the part) of a loon, you (or Ned) doesn’t jump to believe the fantastic. Now that you mention it, however, it does make me consider how sure he was, especially with the speech he gave to Bran about death sentences in general. I don’t know, I didn’t sense a wavering or blind Ned as much as I sensed a guy who was simply wrong, but in a situation that isn’t real obvious. He mentions to Catelyn that he thinks it’s a Mance issue , which is probably, again, the practical line of thinking. We generally don’t give too much credence to who we think are oath breakers and crazy.

    So I agree with the efficiency of the writer in showing us what we can expect with the POVS (answers privy to us and them dying), but I’m not so sure if Ned is stubborn here (or, more stubborn than usual). Came off as logical to me when you consider that Ned seems to believe the supernatural to be ancient history at best, and stories at worst.

    Thanks so much for the comments!

  13. @ Elena
    I couldn’t remember if it eluded me the first time when I wrote that post yesterday. But I think I put my finger on it just now. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that I missed it too the first time. Then there’s a small mention later (is it Benjen or the Old Bear? I don’t remember) that made me go back and reread the beheading scene to find out it had indeed escaped me.

    So I’m sorry if I spoiled this bit of surprise for you by asking the question too early. I’ll shut up next time and let you enjoy the surprises.

    Anyway, this gives you a good idea of how cleverly GRRM writes his POVs as truly blinkered and it’s up to the reader to make the connections. It tells you what kind of things you want to keep your eyes open for as you read. Although, in this instance, he does end up laying it out for you. But he won’t always.

  14. Reading Elena’s reactions to some of the later scenes, plot twists, etc. will be excellent! I can’t wait!

    Jay: I totally feel you. That was a great analysis of the first real POV chapter. Coming from a long-time fan I think you were able to express exactly what a lot of us have felt in respect to the characters and the story.

  15. I know I’m way late to reading your re-read, but I just recently discovered it on reddit.

    Great job so far. I love getting the different reactions from both of you.

  16. thank you guys for doing this. sadly i am terribly late to the party but am still so excited to read through this. its the only place i’ve found that’s so detailed. i’ve just finished GoT and am starting the next book. love this story.

    ok, so omg! the quote you posted:

    He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.

    i am a big supporter of r+d=j and this quote so neatly supports that in the auhor’s style of foreshadowing. it fits so neatly with how ned discovers the truth about joffrey.

    so now i think you’re brilliant and am moving on to read your next entry.

    well done.

  17. Great site.  Know what would really make it better?  If you had some index or a tree or links page with a link to each chapter or whatever so somebody can go back and forth between chapters. 

    Right now, if I want to go to Chapter 40, I have to click on each and every “next” button between chapter 1 and chapter 40, 30something times.  Just sayin’…

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