A warg is hunting in the snow beyond the Wall with two other wolves. They find a small group of people; two men and a woman with a baby. The wolves attack, kill and eat the people.
Varamyr Sixskins, one of Mance Rayder’s chiefs, and a big noise in the army of the King Beyond the Wall, lies dying alone in the snow. The wolves are what remains of the six animals he was previously linked with. We learn what happened to the wildling army after their defeat by Stannis. Some have gone on to Eastwatch to try to breach the Wall there. Others have gone to the sea to look for boats to take them away. Others are heading north again to the land of the Thenns, even though the Thenns joined Mance’s army to escape the ice zombie invasion of their lands. Many have scattered in small bands. Varamyr was with one such group which has been whittled down to him and one woman, who has gone hunting, leaving him dying of a knife wound to the side which he got while trying to steal a cloak.
Varamyr’s thoughts turn to his childhood and how he became a shape shifter, which conveys more information about the link between the Starks and their wolves. He remembers his mentor telling him about the times he shouldn’t link with animals, the types of animals not to join with and that it is an abomination to join with another person. Varamyr has done all these things. He goes out looking for the woman he was travelling with. As he finds her, he slips, causing his wound to rip open and he bleeds out. At this point, Varamyr tries to transfer his soul to the woman. She fights him and the fight causes her to kill herself, biting out her own tongue and clawing out her eyes. Varamyr’s soul finds his alpha wolf, from whose eyes he watches hundreds of ice zombies slowly marching south.
Good start. Initially, I thought we were with Bran and that it was Summer eating the baby. So, the whole baby-eating scene was quite shocking. A paragraph later, I learn that the warg is Varamyr Sixskins. Who is awful. And I find myself quite relieved that it wasn’t Bran.
This chapter goes a long way to explaining the gift of shape shifting that the Starks seem to have with their direwolves. It’s something more accepted north of the Wall than in the South, where these talents have been stamped out. It also conveys that there are times when it’s just not right to do it. Wolves are somewhat accepting, but Varamyr also had a shadowcat, a bear and an eagle. The cat and the bear hated it and tried to fight him.
And just so we don’t forget, the Prologue rams home the theme of Winter is Coming. There are ice zombies and we should be scared. The writing is as good as ever, particularly as this chapter is essentially exposition told through a character study, and I’m totally gripped.