Three-eyed-crow

Abomination in Training: The Indoctrination of a Greenseer

Have you ever felt like the popular ‘Jojen Paste‘ theories were in some way correct, but incompletely articulated… they’re missing something?

Well I hope to allay those thoughts and put forth a compelling viewpoint, that goes a step further. Specifically, this is what this essay argues:

Bran was purposefully introduced to cannibalism during his trek to the Cave of the Three-Eyed Crow, culminating with the consumption of Jojen’s blood during the ‘weirwood paste’ ceremony.

This central idea is underpinned by the following observations:

The consumption of certain human flesh is a route to greater power as a skinchanger.

The ability to warg more difficult subjects, such as humans, is evidence of such power.

A skinchanger must have demonstrated such significant power in order to be joined to the weirwoods.

Thus Coldhands, Bloodraven and Leaf have been taking actions to make this transformation as smooth and expedient as possible.

This essay explores these ideas and uses them to articulate the larger point. Additionally, I take some time at the end to address specific logistical questions that I anticipate will come up.

Since there are only four chapters relevant to this topic, I will examine each chronologically and highlight the salient points, using citations where necessary.

*   *   *

PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The Taboos

Near the very beginning of A Dance with Dragons, we witness Varamyr kill several wildlings. At the time he is warged into the old wolf he named One Eye, and is accompanied by his other wolves, Sly and Stalker.

After the killing, Varamyr has some interesting thoughts regarding the killing and consuming of human flesh:

As she fell, she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. The wolf saved the choicest parts for his brother. All around the carcasses, the frozen snow turned pink and red as the pack filled its bellies.

Leagues away, in a one-room hut of mud and straw with a thatched roof and a smoke hole and a floor of hard-packed earth, Varamyr shivered and coughed and licked his lips. His eyes were red, his lips cracked, his throat dry and parched, but the taste of blood and fat filled his mouth, even as his swollen belly cried for nourishment. A child’s flesh, he thought, remembering Bump. Human meat. Had he sunk so low as to hunger after human meat? He could almost hear Haggon growling at him. “Men may eat the flesh of beasts and beasts the flesh of men, but the man who eats the flesh of man is an abomination.”

Abomination. That had always been Haggon’s favorite word. Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This establishes quite clearly the idea that the eating of human flesh is a taboo among wargs. Engaging our innate sense of curiousity, an immediate question is “Why?”.

One further observation is the order of sentences in the last paragraph and the associated subtext:

To eat of human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Quite clearly, the subtext here is the notion that the taboos restrict access to power. Thus, Varamyr clearly believes that violating the taboos is a key to greater power as a warg.

*   *   *

Still Haunted

Varamyr is also perplexed by the name he chose to use as an alias when he fled the Battle at the Wall:

The terrible Lord Varamyr had gone craven, but he could not bear that she should know that, so he told the spearwife that his name was Haggon. Afterward he wondered why that name had come to his lips, of all those he might have chosen. I ate his heart and drank his blood, and still he haunts me.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Abomination, he heard Haggon saying. It was almost as if he were here, in this very room.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

It strays from the central point of this essay, but I believe the ‘mystery of ghosts’ is an intentional motif that George RR Martin has implemented in A Song of Ice and Fire. I have made initial references to this idea in my analysis of Martin’s early story With Morning Comes Mistfall and how it has influenced ASOIAF.

While there are more indications of this phenomenon in ASOIAF, I only want to bring one up for purposes of this essay:

“Remember Old Nan’s stories, Bran. Remember the way she told them, the sound of her voice. So long as you do that, part of her will always be alive in you.”
— BRAN II, A STORM OF SWORDS

So indeed, although we take this passage to simply mean that Bran can sustain the ‘idea of Old Nan’ by remembering her, the prose also literally says that ‘part of her will live on in you.’ Not all that unfamiliar to readers familiar with the idea that remnants of a warg remain in their pets after death:

Can a bird hate? Jon had slain the wilding Orell, but some part of the man remained within the eagle.
— JON II, A STORM OF SWORDS

“Orell was withering inside his feathers, so I took the eagle for my own. But the joining works both ways, warg. Orell lives inside me now, whispering how much he hates you.”
— JON X, A STORM OF SWORDS

Varamyr has twice indicated (in passages already cited) that he’s eaten Haggon’s heart, and even drank his blood. Could it be that he somehow benefited, gaining either taboo power or some element of Haggon’s living nature? After all, compare to Bran’s final experience in A Dance with Dragons, while he is ‘warged’ into the weirwood in the Winterfell godswood:

The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

I’m not trying to prove that there is an actual ghost of Haggon that persists around Varamyr; rather that the mystery of such a possibly is real. After all, we readers have already come to accept the fantastical notions of warging in general and the notion of ‘second lives’ that wargs can engage in upon death.

Is it so much more absurd that the eating of flesh conveys power or perhaps the memory or ‘essence’ of the consumed? Could this perhaps be limited to those gifted with warging?

The takeaway is that consuming the flesh of others is associated with the idea (real or imagined) that the eater is perhaps somehow connected to the consumed. This could be bound by timing of the death and consumption of flesh. It further articulates the idea that the eating of flesh is associated with some kind of spiritual growth, one perhaps associated with both power and perhaps the essense or memories of others.

I will return to this concept to further establish it in a few moments.

*   *   *

Hungering after Flesh

Notice that when Varamyr mentions eating Haggon’s heart (cited previously), it is not associated with hunger. He’s doing it because of his belief that power was associated with breaking the taboos, and also because he hated Haggon.

Now, presumably years later, Varamyr is starving and crippled:

A child’s flesh, he thought, remembering Bump. Human meat. Had he sunk so low as to hunger after human meat? He could almost hear Haggon growling at him. “Men may eat the flesh of beasts and beasts the flesh of men, but the man who eats the flesh of man is an abomination.”
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So we see that Varamyr finds much shame in eating flesh out of hunger, and not so much when the flesh was eaten for ritual or other purposes.

Thus Varamyr has indicated he himself sees the eating of human flesh for survival as abominable. But why? What ethical or other principle guides someone as unscrupulous as Varamyr to feel such self-contempt at the thought?

*   *   *

Abomination: A Folk Etymology

The word ‘abomination’ itself is highly utilized in the King James’s Bible. It indicates things or activities which are unclean, irrevocably evil, or sinful. It is from this source and the word’s normal Latin etymology that most readers derive their understanding of the word.

However, there is a folk etymology that is equally (perhaps more) important to understanding the importance of ‘abomination’ in A Song of Ice and Fire. Specifically, this folk etymology is rooted in the alternative idea that abomination is derived from the Latin ab homine, meaning “away from man” or “beastly”.

Breaking any of Haggon’s taboos clearly indicates someone who has behaved in a way that no normal human would act. So the folk etymology has immediate applicability.

But the idea of abomination in both the biblical and the ASOIAF contexts extends beyond the acts themselves. Recall that abominations are, in biblical terms, irredeemable sinful and/or inhuman. Thus once a person has violated said taboos, they have begun a trek down a path with no return.

Of course this could all just be Varamyr and/or Haggon’s misguided beliefs and not the actual truth of things. But recall that Varamyr and Haggon both participated in a coterie of wargs. While I grant that warging is clearly not a science, it cannot be denied that this band of wargs exchanged experiences and ideas, lending an empirical basis to Haggon’s beliefs. Thus, while not scientific or objective, we can reasonably believe that his taboos were based on repeated observations that their violation led to poor outcomes.

*   *   *

Varamyr’s Power

Quite obviously Varamyr was an exceptionally powerful warg. He had dominion over six different beasts simultaneously!

By all accounts and observations, this is a feat accomplished nowhere else. How did he accomplish this? Was he just supernaturally gifted, even among wargs?

Or perhaps he cheated.

After all, by his very own logic, he accessed power by ignoring the taboo of consuming flesh. He also admits to warging into Sly, his female wolf, while she was mating with One Eye: another clear violation of Haggon’s taboos.

We don’t have a ton of evidence to suggest that Varamyr ever ate anyone besides Haggon. However, remember that Varamyr finds ‘hungering for human flesh’ distasteful, yet we know he ate Haggon’s heart all the same.

Indeed, he did more than that, he dominated Haggon’s wolf (while Haggon was in it) and then subsequently killed Haggon and ate his heart. Indeed, his method of execution seems to follow a pattern:

Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The hunter died weeping after Varamyr took Greyskin from him, driving him out to claim the beast for his own. No second life for you, old man.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

It seems that Varamyr preferred to steal a warg’s pet from them while they were warging at the time. This forced the skinchangers back into their human bodies, whereupon Varamyr subsequently killed them.

It’s notable that Varamyr appears to have been specifically killing wargs, as the only other mention of his killings is a mention of those ‘heroic’ wildlings that would occasionally threaten his hall and challenge him.

Given that he seems to have been targeting skinchangers, could it be that he also ate their hearts as well? It would certainly complete the already notable congruency with the ritual elements to Haggon’s death.

*   *   *

Eater of the Dead

Given our new-found understanding of Varamyr’s ritual, we see that he denies a warg their second life before killing them. Why is this important to him?

I can only speak for myself, but if I had to guess, I believe most readers initially think Varamyr did this out of a petulant hatred or ire for other skinchangers (or people in general).

However, I now believe that Varamyr forces them back into their human forms (and denies their second life) in order to consume their strength.

It makes tremendous sense of why he seems to find no qualms in killing wargs, and yet laments the notion that he hungers for human flesh, particularly why eating Haggon’s heart was palatable, and yet the flesh of a normal human seems like anathema.

This lends a rather Highlander-esque tone to Varamyr’s backstory.

*   *   *

Varamyr’s Failure, Bran’s Success

Although this is somewhat unrelated to our examination of Bran’s cannibalism, I’d like to finish off our exploration of Varamyr and look at his final failure.

For all of Varamyr’s efforts, his pursuits of power and fearless violation of skinchanger taboos, he is unable to seize control of the spearwife Thistle.

This man had killed at least two (probably more) skinchangers, stolen their pets and taken their power. He had control over six creatures, from wildly varying stock. Yet he could not dominate a simple spearwife. He was not powerful enough.

And yet Bran could. Why?

  • Was it just because he was ‘more gifted’?
  • Was it because Bloodraven had been aiding Bran?

One or more of these may be the case, but they discredit the notion that Varamyr had clearly spent his whole life honing his talents. He had fought other wargs, stolen their pets and likely eaten their hearts.

The most likely reason that Bran succeeds where Varamyr failed is because Hodor was ultimately too simple to resist:

Other times, when he was tired of being a wolf, Bran slipped into Hodor’s skin instead. The gentle giant would whimper when he felt him, and thrash his shaggy head from side to side, but not as violently as he had the first time, back at Queenscrown. He knows it’s me, the boy liked to tell himself. He’s used to me by now. Even so, he never felt comfortable inside Hodor’s skin. The big stableboy never understood what was happening, and Bran could taste the fear at the back of his mouth. It was better inside Summer. I am him, and he is me. He feels what I feel.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

What we see here is that one of the principle differences between Bran and Varamyr is that Bran was willing to violate Haggon’s taboo (indeed he doesn’t really know of it) and dominate Hodor.

Perhaps it was this ‘not knowing’ of the taboo that allowed him to warg into Hodor. Perhaps it was Varamyr’s ‘ghost’ of Haggon (whether imagined or somehow real) that anchored him and doomed his seizure of Thistle. We may never know the ‘rules’ of skinchanging, if indeed there are such constraints.

In any case, we see that two things have happened:

  • Bran has assumed an almost casual regard for warging into Hodor, a violation of Haggon’s taboos. An abomination.
  • Additionally, Bran has no knowledge of such taboos. Therefore he could conceivably act on any of them without conscious concern.

*   *   *

BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Going in Circles

Meera makes an early observation in A Dance with Dragons regarding Coldhands, their guide to the Three-Eyed Raven:

“He said, aye. He said he would take us to this three-eyed crow too. That river we crossed this morning is the same one we crossed four days ago, I swear. We’re going in circles.”

“Rivers turn and twist,” Bran said uncertainly, “and where there’s lakes and hills, you need to go around.”
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

While of course I must admit I have no evidence, I believe Meera’s observation here is correct. Orienteering is a basic survival skill that depends on the use of landmarks, and its especially designed for use in unfamiliar terrain. Thus you must at least defer to Meera’s skills that she is seeing landmarks repeat themselves.

After all, this wouldn’t be the only time that characters go in circles in A Dance with Dragons: Tyrion’s adventure through The Sorrows also involves looping travels. But this isn’t unfamiliar territory to Coldhands.

I should take a moment and point out that Bran’s statement above is flat-out proven wrong later in the very same chapter:

The woods were full of frozen streams
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The elk went where he would, regardless of the wishes of Meera and Jojen on his back. Mostly he stayed beneath the trees, but where the shore curved away westward he would take the more direct path across the frozen lake, shouldering through snowdrifts taller than Bran as the ice crackled underneath his hooves.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Quite clearly, you can go across lakes and streams, so his argument is pretty thin. Understanding that the choice between Meera’s and Bran’s perspectives is indeed a false dichotomy, it does seem like the truth is probably closer to Meera’s interpretation.

Coldhands has ravens that talk to him as well. They could guide him, indeed they talk to him but apparently only about those who are following their party.

Additionally, given that Coldhands seems like a skilled combatant and has ‘lived’ north of the Wall for some time, it seems reasonable to believe he has skill in tracking and trailblazing:

Ser Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle had left to mark his way.
— JON IV, A GAME OF THRONES

It makes no sense that he would be going in circles.

Unless it was deliberate.

*   *   *

It’s Definitely not Kosher

At the end of Bran I, ADWD, Bran returns to his body after warging Summer for some time. Coldhands has returned with pork for the party to eat:

“Just in time,” she said. Bran rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and wriggled backwards against the wall to sit. “You almost slept through supper. The ranger found a sow.”

Behind her, Hodor was tearing eagerly at a chunk of hot charred flesh as blood and grease ran down into his beard. Wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers. “Hodor,” he muttered between bites, “hodor, hodor.” His sword lay on the earthen floor beside him. Jojen Reed nipped at his own joint with small bites, chewing each chunk of meat a dozen times before swallowing.

The ranger killed a pig.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Coldhands killed a pig apparently. Or did he?

Recall that the reason Coldhands departed was to take care of some men who were apparently on their trail:

“Behind us,” Coldhands announced, his voice muffled by the black wool scarf across his nose and mouth.

“Wolves?” Bran asked. They had known for days that they were being followed. Every night they heard the mournful howling of the pack, and every night the wolves seemed a little closer. Hunters, and hungry. They can smell how weak we are. Often Bran woke shivering hours before the dawn, listening to the sound of them calling to one another in the distance as he waited for the sun to rise. If there are wolves, there must be prey, he used to think, until it came to him that they were the prey.

The ranger shook his head. “Men. The wolves still keep their distance. These men are not so shy.”

Meera Reed pushed back her hood. The wet snow that had covered it tumbled to the ground with a soft thump. “How many men? Who are they?”

“Foes. I’ll deal with them.”
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So we know that Coldhands split with the party to kill men. Apparently they either had a pig or he found one on his journey to deal with the men.

There’s just one problem with that. While Bran was warged, he visited the scene where the men were killed:

Sleep would not come, could not come. Instead there was wind, the biting cold, moonlight on snow, and fire. He was back inside Summer, long leagues away, and the night was rank with the smell of blood. The scent was strong. A kill, not far. The flesh would still be warm. Slaver ran between his teeth as the hunger woke inside him. Not elk. Not deer. Not this.

The direwolf moved toward the meat, a gaunt grey shadow sliding from tree to tree, through pools of moonlight and over mounds of snow. The wind gusted around him, shifting. He lost the scent, found it, then lost it again. As he searched for it once more, a distant sound made his ears prick up.

Wolf, he knew at once. Summer stalked toward the sound, wary now. Soon enough the scent of blood was back, but now there were other smells: piss and dead skins, bird shit, feathers, and wolf, wolf, wolf. A pack. He would need to fight for his meat.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

He smelled many things here, but there was no scent of pig among them.

This is not the only time we observe Bran and Summer carefully using their sense of smell to search around:

Familiar scents filled his nostrils: wet leaves and dead grass, the rotted carcass of a squirrel decaying in the brush, the sour stink of man-sweat, the musky odor of the elk. Food. Meat. The elk sensed his interest. He turned his head toward the direwolf, wary, and lowered his great antlers.

He is not prey, the boy whispered to the beast who shared his skin. Leave him. Run.

Summer ran. Across the lake he raced, his paws kicking up sprays of snow behind him. The trees stood shoulder to shoulder, like men in a battle line, all cloaked in white. Over roots and rocks the direwolf sped, through a drift of old snow, the crust crackling beneath his weight. His paws grew wet and cold. The next hill was covered with pines, and the sharp scent of their needles filled the air. When he reached the top, he turned in a circle, sniffing at the air, then raised his head and howled.

The smells were there. Mansmells.

Ashes, Bran thought, old and faint, but ashes. It was the smell of burnt wood, soot, and charcoal. A dead fire.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So we see that Bran could have picked up on a pig smell if there was one in the area. He picked up on so many other things.

You can see that in all likelihood there was no pig that was slain. Coldhands brought back some other meat and called it pork.

After all, why didn’t Coldhands kill hunt and kill the wolves if he was concerned for feeding Bran and the Reeds? Between his obvious skills at combat and hunting, he’s got ravens keeping him informed. There’s no real reason the wolves couldn’t have been dinner as well.

As for whether or not Coldhands truly killed the men and it wasn’t the wolves, consider the notable wound mentioned here:

The prey as well. He went from man to man, sniffing, before settling on the biggest, a faceless thing who clutched black iron in one hand. His other hand was missing, severed at the wrist, the stump bound up in leather. Blood flowed thick and sluggish from the slash across his throat.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The slash is clearly the result of a bladed weapon and thus caused by a human.

As for the particular source of meat:

The female was chewing on a leather boot that still had half a leg in it, but she let it fall at his approach.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This would certainly seem to imply that the man’s thigh was missing. Sure it could be that the wolves ate it, but there’s nary a mention of any bones around, nor of a femur still attached to the leg in the boot.

A Very Obvious (but Misleading) Trail

Notice that the giant elk would leave one heck of a massive trail. Indeed it would appear that the text makes this clear:

The elk went where he would, regardless of the wishes of Meera and Jojen on his back. Mostly he stayed beneath the trees, but where the shore curved away westward he would take the more direct path across the frozen lake, shouldering through snowdrifts taller than Bran as the ice crackled underneath his hooves.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Inasmuch as I consider this to help foreshadow a possible strategy for an entirely different event in the books, it also is clearly showing us that the elk leaves very obvious signs of its passage.

However, what’s interesting is the nature of the trail the entire party makes:

Swaying in his wicker basket on Hodor’s back, the boy hunched down, ducking his head as the big stableboy passed beneath the limb of an oak… from time to time he would lash out at a branch, knocking loose a spray of snow…

Just ahead, the elk wove between the snowdrifts with his head down, his huge rack of antlers crusted with ice. The ranger sat astride his broad back, grim and silent…

Behind the ranger, Meera Reed wrapped her arms around her brother, to shelter him from the wind and cold with the warmth of her own body…

Summer brought up the rear of their little band.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So there’s really only three tracks being left, a giant elk’s, a single human’s and a lone wolf. Since Summer wanders all over, it’s more likely to appear as just a human and an elk traveling together. It’s a tremendously clever way of hiding the fact that there are three more humans, an undead ranger and a warg-bond with the wolf from any would-be followers. It makes them appear as a more tempting, vulnerable target.

By the time readers get to A Dance with Dragons, we are all well aware that one of the best ways to elude pursuers is walk up or down a stream, so as to lose a scent and/or leave no tracks. Why then when they are being pursued does Coldhands not appear to implement any such cleverness? Quite the contrary, he actually simply treks the group across “half-frozen streams” and the like, with apparent aplomb.

Such apparently apathy suggests a casual dismissal of any threats whom could benefit from their trail. If that was the case, then why did Coldhands suddenly depart to deal with them?

The conspicuous nature of all these observations raises the likelihood that Coldhands was acting in deliberation: the meandering journey was deliberately intended to lure the Night’s Watch mutineers toward him.

*   *   *

Conclusions

The evidence is quite strong that Coldhands could have easily eluded pursuers by using well-established techniques of concealment and that he was likely dawdling instead of making a true course for the Three-Eyed Raven.

There is no evidence that Coldhands killed a pig, indeed no evidence of pigs at all. Thus it would appear that Coldhands was lying about the meal he had procured for them.

Collectively, I think these observations combine for the following insights:

  • Coldhands was using the great elk’s trail in an attempt to lure the NW mutineers.
  • Despite other avenues of food (the wolves), Coldhands killed the mutineers and used their flesh as food for Bran and his party.

But why? Why would Coldhands feed them human flesh and lie about it?

*   *   *

BRAN II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

There is much less content that is relevant to Bran’s ‘cannibalism’ narrative in this chapter. That said, what does happen is highly symbolic and ties into subtle elements from other chapters.

The Great Elk

It had been twelve days since the elk had collapsed for the third and final time, since Coldhands had knelt beside it in the snowbank and murmured a blessing in some strange tongue as he slit its throat. Bran wept like a little girl when the bright blood came rushing out. He had never felt more like a cripple than he did then, watching helplessly as Meera Reed and Coldhands butchered the brave beast who had carried them so far. He told himself he would not eat, that it was better to go hungry than to feast upon a friend, but in the end he’d eaten twice, once in his own skin and once in Summer’s. As gaunt and starved as the elk had been, the steaks the ranger carved from him had sustained them for seven days, until they finished the last of them huddled over a fire in the ruins of an old hillfort.
— BRAN II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Although clearly not cannibalism, we see that Bran placed a special significance on the elk, calling it “friend”.

And yet despite that, he ultimately caved in and ate his friend‘s flesh. And once more we see that they are still being followed by wolves, which is odd considering you’d think they could try and hunt them if they were in need of food. After all, if Coldhands doesn’t need to breathe, why can’t he just go play dead and kill them when they approach?

In any case, this is just a symbolic manifestation of Bran’s capacity for eating his ‘friends’, a word which inherently personifies another.

An interesting parallel would be to notice Bran’s behavior around the elk in the previous chapter:

Summer had grown accustomed to horses at Winterfell, but this was an elk and elk were prey. The direwolf could sense the warm blood coursing beneath the elk’s shaggy hide. Just the smell was enough to make the slaver run from between his jaws, and when it did Bran’s mouth would water at the thought of rich, dark meat.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The key point here is Bran’s mouth (not Summer’s) watering at the thought of eating the elk, despite his designating the creature as a friend, not as prey.

A kill, not far. The flesh would still be warm. Slaver ran between his teeth as the hunger woke inside him. Not elk. Not deer. Not this

The wolf lapped at it with his tongue, licked the ragged eyeless ruin of his nose and cheeks, then buried his muzzle in his neck and tore it open, gulping down a gobbet of sweet meat. No flesh had ever tasted half as good…

Behind her, Hodor was tearing eagerly at a chunk of hot charred flesh as blood and grease ran down into his beard. Wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers…
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Isn’t it interesting that the two other creatures who appear to ‘slaver’ or lustily devour human flesh or the flesh of ‘friends’, are both creatures that Bran has warged: Summer and Hodor?

*   *   *

Bones in the Cave

As Hodor thumped after her, something crunched beneath his feet. His halt was so sudden that Meera and Jojen almost slammed into his back.

“Bones,” said Bran. “It’s bones.” The floor of the passage was littered with the bones of birds and beasts. But there were other bones as well, big ones that must have come from giants and small ones that could have been from children. On either side of them, in niches carved from the stone, skulls looked down on them. Bran saw a bear skull and a wolf skull, half a dozen human skulls and near as many giants. All the rest were small, queerly formed. Children of the forest. The roots had grown in and around and through them, every one. A few had ravens perched atop them, watching them pass with bright black eyes.
— BRAN II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

There are literally human remains in the cave. One has to wonder how they died and why the remains aren’t more properly interred. Why are there only dead humans in the cave (aside from Bloodraven)?

*   *   *

Gendel’s Children

When he looked off that way, he saw eyes looking back at them, slitted eyes that glowed bright, reflecting back the torchlight. More children, he told himself, the girl is not the only one, but Old Nan’s tale of Gendel’s children came back to him as well.
— BRAN II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“You know nothing, Jon Snow. Gendel did not die. He cut his way free, through the crows, and led his people back north with the wolves howling at their heels. Only Gendel did not know the caves as Gorne had, and took a wrong turn.” She swept the torch back and forth, so the shadows jumped and moved. “Deeper he went, and deeper, and when he tried t’ turn back the ways that seemed familiar ended in stone rather than sky. Soon his torches began t’ fail, one by one, till finally there was naught but dark. Gendel’s folk were never seen again, but on a still night you can hear their children’s children’s children sobbing under the hills, still looking for the way back up. Listen? Do you hear them?”

All Jon could hear was the falling water and the faint crackle of flames. “This way under the Wall was lost as well?”

“Some have searched for it. Them that go too deep find Gendel’s children, and Gendel’s children are always hungry.” Smiling, she set the torch carefully in a notch of rock, and came toward him. “There’s naught to eat in the dark but flesh,” she whispered, biting at his neck.
— JON III, A STORM OF SWORDS

Aren’t Gendel’s children awfully reminiscent of the children of the forest that Bran meets?

Sure, we know that Ygritte and Old Nan’s tales must be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems curiously apropos when you see a huge litter of bones in a cave populated by creatures collectively referred to as children.

Given that Nan and Ygritte’s tales often have elements of truth to them, could this not bolster any suggestion that the children of the forest indeed ‘consume’ human flesh, in some fashion?

*   *   *

BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

There are two major observations here that I believe cement the theory that Bran’s introduction to cannibalism was deliberate.

Where are the squirrels and rats?

Under the hill they still had food to eat. A hundred kinds of mushrooms grew down here. Blind white fish swam in the black river, but they tasted just as good as fish with eyes once you cooked them up. They had cheese and milk from the goats that shared the caves with the singers, even some oats and barleycorn and dried fruit laid by during the long summer. And almost every day they ate blood stew, thickened with barley and onions and chunks of meat. Jojen thought it might be squirrel meat, and Meera said that it was rat. Bran did not care. It was meat and it was good. The stewing made it tender.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Great and all, but where are the squirrels and rats? There is no evidence that Summer has ever encountered anything more than a squirrel carcass outside the Cave:

Summer prowled through the silent woods, a long grey shadow that grew more gaunt with every hunt, for living game could not be found.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Note that this paragraph immediately precedes Bran’s observations concerning their food. Additionally, how is it that Bran never observes any signs of rats inside the caves, nor does he observe rats or squirrels as Summer.

Indeed, the only game Meera seems to be able to catch herself are the blind fish from the underground river:

Jojen made it down the rope easily enough, but after Meera caught a blind white fish with her frog spear and it was time to climb back up, his arms began to tremble and he could not make it to the top, so they had to tie the rope around him and let Hodor haul him up.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So the meat, and the blood are apparently coming from somewhere else. Either there are indeed squirrels and rats and Bran, Summer and the readers just aren’t seeing them. Or this is another lie, and they are eating some sort of mystery meat.

*   *   *

Warging Meera

Meera began to cry.

Bran hated being crippled then. “Don’t cry,” he said. He wanted to put his arms around her, hold her tight the way his mother used to hold him back at Winterfell when he’d hurt himself. She was right there, only a few feet from him, but so far out of reach it might have been a hundred leagues. To touch her he would need to pull himself along the ground with his hands, dragging his legs behind him. The floor was rough and uneven, and it would be slow going, full of scrapes and bumps. I could put on Hodor’s skin, he thought. Hodor could hold her and pat her on the back. The thought made Bran feel strange, but he was still thinking it when Meera bolted from the fire, back out into the darkness of the tunnels. He heard her steps recede until there was nothing but the voices of the singers.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Compare:

“Be quiet!” Bran said in a shrill scared voice, reaching up uselessly for Hodor’s leg as he crashed past, reaching, reaching.

Hodor staggered, and closed his mouth. He shook his head slowly from side to side, sank back to the floor, and sat crosslegged. When the thunder boomed, he scarcely seemed to hear it. The four of them sat in the dark tower, scarce daring to breathe.

“Bran, what did you do?” Meera whispered.

“Nothing.” Bran shook his head. “I don’t know.” But he did. I reached for him, the way I reach for Summer. He had been Hodor for half a heartbeat. It scared him.
— BRAN III, A STORM OF SWORDS

It’s awful interesting that Bran was similarly concerned with ‘reaching’ Meera to comfort her, the same way he ‘reached’ for Hodor the first time he warged into the simple giant.

Notice how Meera bolted away from him as well, and that the experience gave Bran a strange feeling. Combined with Bran’s prior history with ‘reaching out to comfort’ others, this would seem to lend much more significance to these events.

One could make the argument that he was accidentally reaching out to her with his skinchanging powers without knowing it, much like he did with Hodor.

This would seem to make him substantially more powerful that Varamyr, who never could approach this.

Notice that this is the last scene with Bran prior to Bloodraven’s declaration “It is time”, and the commencement of the weirwood paste ceremony leading to Bran’s weirwood visions.

While not explicit, it would seem that ‘It is time’ had less to do with the date on the calendar and more on when the figurative ‘egg’ was ready to be hatched. What I mean is this: Bloodraven was waiting for Bran’s powers to grow strong enough to warg others before commencing the ritual.

 *   *   *

A Greenseer’s Diet

Lord Brynden drew his life from the tree, Leaf told them. He did not eat, he did not drink.
— BRAN III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

So Bloodraven doesn’t eat or drink, but gets his nourishment from ‘the tree’. Presumably this means he draws sustenance from the weirwoods to which he is conjoined.

This certain would seem to make some deal of sense, after all, how then does Bran taste the blood in the following scene:

The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.
— BRAN III, A DANCE OF DRAGONS

A person could easily argue that Bran tasted the blood because he ‘warged’ the weirwood, much like he can taste Summer’s meals when he wargs the direwolf.

However, there is a potent oversight here: when Bran wargs Summer, the prose/narrative changes. Whenever Bran is in Summer, the text takes on a very allegorical/metaphorical nature, as if to help show that the readers (and Bran) are now inside an alien/non-human mind.

There is no such change in mentality when he wargs the tree. Indeed, the final sentence of the citation makes its quite clear that Bran has no struggle with identity while in the tree.

This leads me to believe that it is Bran –the broken child on a weirwood throne– who is actually tasting the blood. It is not a case of Bran just experiencing what once happened to the weirwood.

If we’re talking about Bran tasting the blood, how is that possible? How could he be tasting blood –perhaps beginning to draw sustenance from the trees like Bloodraven–, if he wasn’t somehow connected to the weirwoods?

“Tell us what you saw.” From far away Leaf looked almost a girl, no older than Bran or one of his sisters, but close at hand she seemed far older. She claimed to have seen two hundred years.

Bran’s throat was very dry. He swallowed. “Winterfell. I was back in Winterfell. I saw my father. He’s not dead, he’s not, I saw him, he’s back at Winterfell, he’s still alive.”

“No,” said Leaf. “He is gone, boy. Do not seek to call him back from death.”

“I saw him.” Bran could feel rough wood pressing against one cheek. “He was cleaning Ice.”
— BRAN III, A DANCE OF DRAGONS

This occurs after Bran’s first ‘visit’ to Winterfell’s weirwood after consuming the weirwood paste. Notice two things:

  • Bran is notably thirsty, parched even.
  • Bran feels something wooden pressing against his cheek. An important implication here is that the wood was not pressing against him before.

Could it be that while he has these “weirwood dreams”, his body is being joined to the weirwoods?

By all appearances, it would seem that a greenseer’s “nourishment” consists of whatever is given to the weirwoods: most notably blood. At the very least, that seems to be what is offered to the trees in any religious sense, anywhere in the books. Thus if Bran is indeed being attached to the weirwoods, then he may very well be deriving real nourishment from the blood he is tasting.

*   *   *

WAIT… WHAT?

Here I want to address a couple of questions that I’m sure will arise. Some of this will be answered with a ‘I’m pretty-sure-I’m-right’ tone and some of it will be in a ‘Well-if-you-want-my-take-on-it’ tone. I’ll do my best to be clear about my attitude where I can.

So, if Bran and the Reeds are eating meat in Bran III, ADWD… where is the meat coming from?

I like to imagine that Bloodraven has this big icebox full of human flesh.

Ok, so actually if you want my opinion, I strongly believe that the meat they are eating is the remains of the Garth Greyfeather, Black Jack Bulwer, and Hairy Hal: the three rangers whose heads were mounted on spears north of the Wall. I believe Coldhands was the one who killed the rangers, put the heads on spears so close to the wall, and buried so deeply that the NW would have trouble removing them from the ground. Coldhands is the only one we’ve seen kill Night’s Watch men without hesitation. In short, Bloodraven knew about Melisandre’s ‘vision’ of three heads, and Coldhands was simply ‘making it come true’. I say this because there is an equally good argument that the real eyeless heads happened somewhere else in the book.

Lastly, look at how chronologically close these events are. MELISANDRE, ADWD and the three dead rangers precede BRAN III, ADWD and Bran’s encounters with the blood stew with ‘rat’ or ‘squirrel’ meats by a mere three chapters.

Alternatively, they (Coldhands, children, whomever) could have been killing wildlings at random and using their remains.

If this is true, then why is Bloodraven, Coldhands, et al. concealing the truth from Bran?

“I have watched you for a long time, watched you with a thousand eyes and one. I saw your birth, and that of your lord father before you. I saw your first step, heard your first word, was part of your first dream. I was watching when you fell. And now you are come to me at last, Brandon Stark, though the hour is late.”
— BRAN II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Specifically I believe that Bloodraven believes urgency is so important that he’s willing to withhold information or deceive in order to smooth Bran’s metamorphosis.


I’m probably missing some stuff, but I wanted to get this posted and off my back.

7 thoughts on “Abomination in Training: The Indoctrination of a Greenseer

  1. Cash

    Very well done. However, some might be miffed at your use of the word “warging”, which isn’t a real word from the books, as well as the usage of “warg” in the context of an animals other than a wolf. Wargs are simply skinchangers with wolves, after all. So one cannot warg a person. In fact, the word warg doesn’t seem to be a verb at all.

    I don’t care personally, but I hear no end of Elio Garcia complaining about it. Either way, fantastic write-up, and wonderfully chilling. I’m glad people are looking closely at Bran chapters and not just looming battles.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Yeah, I did a little hand-wringing over the use of warging v skinchanging. I settled on breaking the ‘rules’ more than a few times because excessively using skinchanging gets cumbersome.

      If there exists a shorter vernacular that works as well or better I’ll be all over it.

      Reply
  2. Mysrt

    Why does everyone assume that bloodraven is trying to help bran. “though the hour is late”, maybe he intends to ward into bran to gain a new human life to continue living on.

    Reply
  3. BarberBen

    I thought this was very well-argued. Do you think the spirit of the tree is warging Bran perhaps instead of the other way around? The weirwood trees have taken on a much darker presence in the last few books. Interestingly, I think Martin’s gods in Westeros roughly correspond to an ancient triad of Celtic gods – Tyranis, Teutates and Esus – infamous for the human sacrifices made in their name. Tyranis required victims burned to death, Teutates required them drowned, and Esus required them tied to a tree and flailed to death. In GOT we have their counterparts requiring the same sacrifices: R’hllor , the Drowned God, and if the Boltons and the Northmen are to be believed, the Old Gods through the weirwoods. There are other gods in Westeros and Essos, but these seem to be the ones that uniquely require human sacrifice in a way even the Many-Faced God does not. It would not surprise me, though it horrifies me because I want a kinder story for Bran, if cannibalism of some kind to ingest the spirit of the slain was a part of Bran’s growth not into a greenseer but into a god. I don’t believe this spirit can be a good one if so. What also seems clear is that Martin’s entities have the power to resurrect but nowhere near in such powerful numbers as the Others and their wights. I hope the coming final battle won’t be between two armies of zombies, one made of the triad’s sacrifices, the other of the Other’s gods.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Fascinating ideas about the Celtic gods, I’ll read up on that.

      Although I haven’t posted it yet, I have a draft of an upcoming essay, another one of my ‘Influences’ series: this one about Martin’s “A Song for Lya”.

      I can tell you now that A Song for Lya invokes the idea of a gifted person (Lya), who investigates a planet where an alien parasite seems to be increasingly dominating humans. The parasite attaches to a person’s head and fills them with unimaginable joy. Eventually the person heads into a series of caves and finds the large red gelatinous ‘hivemind’ alien, where they willingly join it and allow their bodies to be consumed by it. All of this is done under the idea that they are joining a hivemind where everyone is loved and connected. However, her brother (Robb) goes with her and, being less gifted and more skeptical, refuses to join the hivemind because he would rather trust in the harshness of true life than submit to what could possibly be a lifetime of illusory freedom and happiness.

      You can see almost immediate parallels to the old gods in ASOIAF. Couple that with the Jaenshi from “And Seven Times Never Kill Man!” (essay posted for this one) and you can see Martin has liberally borrowed from his previous sci-fi stories.

      I think the applicability of “A Song for Lya” is that it more or less confirms that Bran would increasingly lose his identity. After all Brynden says that “He used to have a name”, indicating he has already begun to depersonalize.

      Given the central theme of A Song for Lya (whether or not to commit to a relationship that might provide unimaginable-yet-perhaps-imaginary fulfillment or stay in the stark truthfulness of the tangible, the cost of doubt), and the fact that Robb doesn’t join Lya; it may suggest that at some point Bran actually rejects whatever joining he is currently undergoing. Or perhaps that he somehow subverts the system for his own purposes.

      And Martin writes some very Edgar Allen Poe style horror/sci-fi. I wouldn’t put it past him that the old gods are indeed alien or dismissive of ordinary ethical norms. I also wouldn’t put it past him to make a point-of-view character into a follower of such beliefs as well: He did this in his story Sandkings.

      Reply

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