Chapter 4 – Bran
Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen are travelling north with Coldhands, an ice zombie dressed as a ranger and riding an elk. It’s cold. Really, really cold. When Bran slips into Summer’s skin he doesn’t feel the cold so much and can detect the life in the snowscape that seems lifeless when he’s in his own skin. Summer sniffs the elk, trying to work out whether he can kill it and eat it. Bran slips into Hodor’s skin for a moment; Hodor doesn’t like it but struggles less each time. Coldhands has a murder of ravens that follow them.
They are being tracked by a group of men. Coldhands goes to deal with it and insists Meera stay with the group. The rest go on to try to find a village for some shelter. Jojen is really struggling but says he won’t die here and that they must do as Coldhands says. They are freezing and starving and the village is difficult to find. Eventually, Bran slips inside Summer and uses the wolf’s superior sense of smell to find it. Summer goes hunting and Bran goes with him. Summer finds three wolves eating Night Watch men and fights the alpa male for the kill. He wins and eats the best bits. One of the men has an amputated arm.
When Bran returns to himself, he finds that Coldhands has brought them a pig and they have a fire. Coldhands says that because they are in a hut under the snow the fire won’t be seen and won’t attract Others. Bran challenges Coldhands about his black hands and how he won’t come near the fire. Coldhands admits he is dead. Jojen and Meera say they have to stick with it.
Okay, so lots of questions here. The three wolves that Summer sees off are Varamyr’s wolves and the alpha is carrying Varamyr. This is obviously not a coincidence – are they going to follow? Will Varamyr try to take Hodor? Bran slipping into Hodor’s skin is much creepier after the prologue. Hodor doesn’t fight as much; is it because he’s mentally sub-normal, does that make him an easier target? Maybe Bran is being really abusive by doing that and he doesn’t realise it. What if Varamyr tries to take Hodor? Oh no!
And Coldhands is obviously an ice zombie – but it’s taken ages for Bran to work that out? But how does he get to have agency and why isn’t he trying to kill them? A special kind of ice zombie then. There are hints that Coldhands in Benjen Stark. Maybe it’s his Stark-ness that makes him special.
Then there’s the one-armed Night Watch corpse. Is it Donal Noye? Didn’t he die at Castle Black? If it’s not Donal Noye, then who? I don’t recall any other one-armed characters. And were they zombies or alive when the wolves got them? If they were alive, where did they come from? Maybe they were still stragglers from Mormont’s expedition trying to get back to the Wall.
It feels like this is the first chapter in which things are moving forward. The previous chapters, even Tyrion’s, have felt a little like catching up on where everyone is and what they’ve been doing since the end of ASOS, so this is exciting.